The past 18 months have thrown every disaster they could at the British tourism industry: floods, train delays, fuel strikes, a foot and mouth crisis and international terrorism.
But while leisure tourism has struggled to stay afloat, the turnover generated by conferences and exhibitions has ensured that the British events industry has remained solid.
Nowhere is this reflected more significantly than in the consistent growth of International Confex, the event for the meetings, events, corporate hospitality and incentive travel industries.
Since 1998 the show's visitor attendance has increased by 16%, from 8049 to 9362, and last year a record 9262 net square metres of exhibition space was occupied by 592 standholders. Of last year's visitors, 70% attended to see stands for UK destinations, 51 % attended for corporate hospitality and events and 20% held budgets of more than [pounds sterling]500,000 for organising events.
One key to the show's success, says event director Paula Lorimer, is that it is split into four different sectors to cater for all aspects of the industry: UK venues and destinations, overseas venues and destinations, support services and corporate hospitality.
"The variety of the show, its relevance to the marketplace and its location in central London has also attracted people in the past, "she adds.
"The seminars are always very good, and because of the level of high-calibre exhibitors it attracts a high level of punters," says Hamish Reid, general manager of the Jersey Conference Bureau, which has exhibited at Confex for 11 years.
Ian Fraser, general manager of conferences and events for the Natural History Museum, believes Confex provides the opportunity to keep in touch with the industry. "We've been to the show for nine years because it keeps us in the buyer's eye, and we get the opportunity to talk business with new people. It's also good to keep up with the personnel changes in companies that we deal with," he says.
According to research by the Business Tourism Partnership, congresses and conferences are worth [pounds sterling]6.6bn a year to Britain, exhibitions and trade fairs are worth [pounds sterling]1.8bn, while incentive travel is estimated to draw in [pounds sterling]165m.
The research also highlights that over the past ten years there has been a53% growth in all business trips, and that the conference and incentive travel segments are predicted to grow at a faster rate than any other tourism sector to the year 2010.
Research published by the Meetings Industry Association (MIA), states that the corporate conference sector has grown by 15% since 2000, and the number of events held by each company in the corporate sector has risen from 8.4 in 2000 to 9.7 last year. The total number of corporate events held last year reached 2910.
Of UK destinations, London, Birmingham and Manchester remain the most popular. Tony Rogers, executive director of the British Association of Conference Destinations (BACD), emphasises the resilience of the industry. "Foot and mouth had an adverse effect on destinations in rural regions, but the business was simply displaced elsewhere in the country," he says." And September 11 seems to have caused mostly postponements."
Confex's Lorimer adds: "The conference market is very healthy, and although the attacks in the US put shock waves through the industry, people are realising that conferences have to continue. Things are nearly normal again, and the market will continue to grow."
Reid adds: "People will always want to meet face to face, and see travelling to a conference or exhibition as a perk as well as a necessity."
Scotland is one area that is experiencing a boom, with the Scottish Convention Bureau claiming a 3% increase in 2001. …