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UK loses business events worth up to £800m 'because of EU vote'

Major textile expo ITMA among cancellations, but some destination management companies attack 'scaremongering'

Pictured: The EU referendum takes place on 23 June

UK destination management companies (DMCs) and businesses say they are losing inbound conferences, including one major textiles exhibition worth £800 million, because of uncertainty surrounding Britain's EU referendum.

A number of businesses say European clients are being put off and are either cancelling or threatening to pull business in the event of a Brexit. Some DMCs however are reporting business as usual and say blaming the EU referendum may be scaremongering.

One company told M&IT that fears of a Brexit has cost it two cancellations worth at least £100k, while the NEC Group of venues says Birmingham lost out on hosting the 2019 ITMA, the world's largest exhibition of textile and garment machinery technology.

Most recently, London DMC received a message from the Association of Former EU Staff, the AIACE, saying it would "without doubt" move elsewhere should Britain vote to leave.

London DMC director Bill Prosser said: "They're the first client to have actually come out and said that to us. It's understandable (for that particular group) but what's surprised me is how blunt they were about it. I think they're setting down a marker really."

Sam Nash, director of Pretty Clever Events which runs DMCs across the UK, said she was disappointed when two European clients cancelled their conferences, which would have brought a combined 750 delegates. The two events, one for an association and another for a pharmaceutical client, combined business and leisure itineraries and awards dinners.

"It was quite a substantial amount of work we'd put into the projects to date and it was because of the potential Brexit that both events were pulled," she said.

"We were at the stage where the clients were choosing leisure activities and about to sign contracts. A lot of people would have been affected by the (cancellations) - the hotels and local businesses. And it would have been a nice job for us to have."

NEC Group chief executive Paul Thandi said Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre (NEC) lost out to the prestigious ITMA earlier this year.

"We got central government backing and we put in a great pitch to host it in 2019. It got between us and Barcelona. After we did the pitch the whole judging panel said 'yours was the stand-out, but the problem is we can't give it to a country that might be out of the EU'," Thandi said.

"The economic impact would have been £800m to the regional and also national economy. And we lost out, all because we may not be in the European Union when the show takes place."

However Paul Miller, MD of Spectra DMC, said there had been no noticeable reaction from his clients regarding the EU referendum.

"We haven't received any enquiries or anything mentioning the campaign at all," he said.

"From an industry stand point I can't see London or the UK not being a hub for meetings and incentives. It's a huge part of our industry. We've got great places and I don't think it's anything against any one country; it's just a concept of being in the EU. No country should blame us (if we were to leave). It'd be like us saying 'we don't like the Spanish or the French'. It's completely non related."

Stephen Morton-Prior, MD of Clearwater Events - which operates an inbound DMC service across the UK and Wales - said there had been no cancellations or comments from clients about the referendum.

"I can't see how any events coming into the UK would be affected if we're not part of the EU," he said.

"I think there is a bit of political motivation and I wonder how much of it is scaremongering and blaming the EU referendum if events were going to be cancelled anyway. We're not part of the Eurozone so why would it affect our business? People go to countries with unstable economies, like South Africa for example, all the time. If someone has said they're pulling out of because of the EU referendum I'd be incredibly surprised, and I'd actually consider it to be an excuse for something else."

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