While the conference sector as a whole appears to be buoyant, the amount of corporate bookings is down and a north-south divide has emerged, according to the 2007 British Conference Venues Survey.
The study, published by the British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD) includes data supplied by 314 venues from across the UK. It reports that two-thirds of respondents stated that conference business in 2006 was higher than in 2005. A similar percentage of venues are optimistic about business to be achieved in 2007, 63% anticipating that it will be up on 2006. The estimated value of the conference market – in terms of direct revenue to venues – in 2006 was £7.6 billion, compared with £10.3 billion in 2005.
However, the research also suggests a downturn in business in the north of England, while activity levels in south and central England have remained comparable to the previous year. The average number of conferences per venue in the north of England fell from 512 in 2005 to 384 last year.
While the rates achieved by venues in northern England were similar to the year before, the lower volume of conferences impacted their position relative to the rest of the country, the study says. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish venues showed some modest growth in the number of conferences held per venue. The BACD does however add the caveat that these trends could be explained by differences in those reporting this year, with changes in the amount of venues from different regions.
“It does seem unlikely that the estimated value of the market has fallen by 30%, especially when the venues themselves are reporting general buoyancy and optimism,” said BACD chief executive Tony Rogers. “Interestingly, though, the Government’s ‘UK Tourism Survey’ results for 2006 also shows a fall in the number of overnight business trips, and shorter duration, which mirrors the our findings.”
Overall, the decline in the number of corporate meetings and conferences saw then slide to 48% of all events held last year compared to 62% in 2005 and 66% in 2004. Government and public sector conferences accounted for 37% of all events in 2006, with associations and other not-for-profit bodies representing 15%.
The report also highlights the importance of the regional conference market. Claiming to be the first time that detailed statistical evidence has been compiled from a national perspective, venues reported that up to 69% of conference business came from the region in which the venue itself is situated.
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