Against a back-drop of rather bleak news in the job and property markets, ‘business tourism’ is a beacon of hope – conferences and business events generate £822 million for Greater Manchester’s economy, attracting over 5 million visitors a year, supporting approximately 22,000 jobs 1.
This week we have the Conservative Party Conference, but the ‘holy grail’ of business tourism is international conferences. When people have to travel here from abroad they spend more money per head than national visitors (on souvenirs and sightseeing) or local visitors (who don’t need all those hotels or meals out).
Whilst international conferences are seen as the most prestigious for a city, international conferences and meetings in Manchester only account for about 3%1 of all business events; local and regional conferences and meetings are the most common.
All cities compete for mobile investment, such as conferences and events. According to the International Congress and Convention Association Manchester is ranked 78th as an international conference venue in the world and 42nd in Europe, compared to Liverpool’s ranking of 134th and 71st2. However, the city does not fare so well against its comparison group of “second tier” cities, with Amsterdam, Hamburg, Oslo and Zurich all attracting more international business events2.
Many international conferences rotate their venue which means it is hard market to be in – as you are not necessarily going to get repeat custom from the various societies and associations that host events; so even though the spend per visitor may be lower from local and regional events, they may be worth a lot more in terms of ‘lifetime value’ to the city. So Manchester may be better concentrating on its ‘loyal’ local and regional market – a great way to do this AND grow business tourism is to support local organisations host international events, something that Marketing Manchester does very effectively.
Supporting local organisations is a very powerful way to market Manchester City Region to the world, as they act as powerful and credible ambassadors in the networks they are in. Manchester is known on the world stage, not just through the efforts of organisations such as MIDAS, Marketing Manchester, AGMA, Visit Manchester, Manchester City Council etc, but mainly because of things like the city’s industrial heritage, football clubs and music. New Economy estimate that Manchester’s football clubs boost the local economy by about £330 million per year4. But they are not the only organisations that pull people into to the region. The Universities attract thousands of international students – at a crucial time in their personal and professional development – whatever their experience of Manchester is, they will be telling their family and friends about it.
In terms of converting tourism and leisure (mobile investment) into inward (fixed) investment, research published in the Journal of Place Management and Development3 demonstrated that ‘warm city marketing’ was more effective than ‘cold city marketing’. In other words, firms and residents demonstrate geographical self-preference and do not easily move. Of course, coming to a conference or an event does allow you to ‘trial’ a city – but there is a big step between visiting somewhere and relocating there. The type of investment that is more likely to come from business tourism is through purchasing goods and services from local firms that have become networked to new national or international suppliers through conferences, trade shows or conventions.
You can see my comments in the context of a full supplement on growth and the Manchester City Region here.