We are entering a key period in Glasgow’s economic history; one where it is important to forge ahead during challenging times by building on the city’s many strengths and the opportunities that are coming our way.
A real strength is the resilience of Glasgow’s tourism sector which continues to lead the city’s economic resurgence, thanks in part to our strategy of attracting a diverse portfolio of international conferences and major sporting and cultural events. Glasgow entered the sporting limelight five years ago when we won the right to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014. And while the global focus is now turning towards those Games in the wake of London’s successful Olympics and Paralympics, as a city we are continuing to work hard at attracting more major events beyond 2014.
This process really began two years ago when we became the first city in the UK to launch a formal Major Events Charter, which guarantees the provision of support for organisers considering bringing major sporting and cultural events to Glasgow. We followed on from that earlier this year when we unveiled our specific Major Sports Events Strategy, which is aimed at positioning Glasgow as one of the world’s leading destinations for sport through to 2018 – reflecting our bid to host the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Our ambitions were recognised at this year’s SportAccord Convention in Quebec, Canada, when Glasgow was named one of the world’s top 10 sporting cities ahead of major destinations including Paris, Tokyo and Moscow. We also retained our position as the number one city in the world in terms of sports marketing and branding. As well as the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow will host the 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Cup in November; the 2013 IFNA World Youth Netball Championships; the 2013 UCI World Junior Track Cycling Championships; the 2015 IPC European Swimming Championships and the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
It’s a virtuous circle. As a city, we have invested some £300 million in infrastructure for sporting facilities and we have developed a reputation for hosting major events, which then gives us the capacity to specifically, and deliberately, bid for some of the biggest events in the world, like the Youth Olympics.
Alongside our packed schedule of sports events is an equally vibrant calendar of cultural events. The new Scottish Hydro Arena – or ‘The Hydro’ as it has become known – is currently being built as part of the Scottish Exhibition + Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow in partnership with AEG. With a total capacity of 13,000, this impressive venue will open next September and play host to around 140 events every year, from national and international music mega stars to global entertainment and sporting events – injecting approximately £131 million into the city’s economy. Moreover, it’s expected to be in the top five busiest indoor music arenas in the world, alongside such iconic venues as Madison Square Gardens in New York and London’s 02 Arena. When an artist lands in the UK they will come to The Hydro, and to Glasgow. As a UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow stages an average of 130 music events every week. We’re a very lively city, which is probably a result of our very youthful population.
As well as acting as a magnet for young people, Glasgow’s five universities also drive forward the city’s reputation as a world-leading centre for academic excellence and quality research, particularly in the fields of medicine and life sciences –we’re currently building Europe’s largest hospital. It’s little wonder then that conventions are intrinsic to our events strategy. Business tourism secured over the past seven years has been worth more than £800 million to the city’s economy; generating three million conference delegate hotel room bookings – and we’re on target to achieve the £1 billion milestone in 2013.
In the first seven months of the current financial year alone (April to October 10 2012), 324 new conferences have been won – securing around 425,000 hotel delegate room nights – which are worth £131 million. Looking ahead, we have confirmed conference business on our books through to 2021 and we’re bidding for new conventions business as far out as 2024. In winning this business, Glasgow has beaten off strong competition from San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, Rome, Bucharest and Berlin.
Today, conference delegates account for one in five hotel beds sold in Glasgow, underscoring the importance of conventions to the city and further strengthening our reputation both as the conference capital of Scotland and a major player within the international conventions market. One of the keys to this success is a clever approach to sponsorship. It can be difficult for our conference clients to raise sponsorship revenue around their events, particularly within the medical sector. So what we’ve done in Glasgow is come up with a series of sponsorship platforms for our clients, all based on opportunities we either create or leverage within the city. As a result, we recently generated a seven percent share of the sponsorship revenue for one of our major UK conference clients.
At the Diabetes UK professional conference in Glasgow earlier this year, for example, sponsorship support was secured from a medical company through a bespoke conference iPhone app; a product which was initiated and developed by Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. We’ve found that you can make yourself quite a popular destination if you can create innovative revenue streams that previously did not exist for event organisers.
As well as maximising revenues, Glasgow offers reduced cost. Global financial adviser Mercer’s 2012 Cost of Living Survey found that the city was one of the least expensive to visit, ranking 161st in the world. Unashamedly, Glasgow is a price fighter in Europe, and the cost of our accommodation, visitor attractions, restaurants, museums and galleries provide excellent value. The price points of our restaurants are geared towards a younger audience and with 40,000 covers you can dine extremely well for not a lot of money.
We’ve also learned how to negotiate with the hospitality industry for the benefit of conference and event organisers. We’re not here to make a profit out of organisers; they can be secure in the knowledge that their brand equity, their revenue streams and their client base are considered paramount.
Glasgow recognises that by making the city an attractive place to do business then conference and event organisers will return. The Glasgow business model is based on service and loyalty – the city’s reputation is built on delivering on our promises!
Scott Taylor is Chief Executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB) – Glasgow’s official destination marketing organisation. As custodian of the Glasgow: Scotland with style brand, GCMB works to position and promote Glasgow across national and international markets as one of Europe’s most vibrant, dynamic and diverse cities in which to live, work, study, invest and visit. For more information, visit www.seeglasgow.com.
Image: Flickr-Rupert Brun