Inteview with Paul Kennedy, Executive Chairman of The Meetings Show, London, on Brexit and possible effects for our industry.
CIM: Were you surprised by the results of the referendum?
Paul Kennedy: No, not really although I voted to remain in the EU. It was always going to be economics versus emotion and as depressing as it is, the innate character of many British people to feel separate from other nationalities won the day. We can now truly claim to be offshore Europe! The working class vote was overwhelmingly cast in favour of Brexit and I believe this was more about emotion than cool rational thought. The right of center traditional vote seem to think that they can force Europe to accept free trade without any form of free movement of labour are simply mistaken. Having said that the result happened from a democratic process and the majority was clear. What for me was depressing was the terrible and at times deeply inappropriate communication by politicians on all sides and to say the debate was clumsily handled by politicians is in true British fashion a massive understatement.
Will Britain’s withdrawal have any direct effects for international meetings?
I suspect those companies whose shares have taken a battering may choose to be cautious and reduce costs at least in the short term so I do think there will be some effect but how much, rather like everything else to do with Brexit, no one knows.
How should industry players deal with the uncertainty?
I would hope that all organisations would continue to press ahead with their meeting and event plans because it’s difficult to see what can be gained by not doing so. Trade will continue to cross borders and to be overly cautious will simply result in missed business opportunities. Flexibility will be key in the next few years and destination supply chains and venues, hotels, cvbs and dmcs have to be particularly sensitive to clients to retain the business.
Will travel requirements become more complicated?
Not immediately because the Article 50 provisions have at the time of writing not been triggered. Much will depend upon the skill of civil servants throughout Europe to negotiate bilateral agreements to facilitate the ease of travel for the massive outbound leisure, business travel and MICE sector business which originates from the UK.
What do you tell clients to encourage investment decisions?
To be positive. There is no evidence to suggest the meetings industry is about to experience a sudden nosedive in demand. Our collective thirst for travel in my mind is undiminished so why would you not continue to expand investment in what some call the visitor economy. I suspect though here in the UK the politicians will use Brexit to delay public sector planning and investment decisions such as, yet again, airport expansion in the South of England.
Does the new situation provide opportunities as well?
Well for those cities which have substantial international government sector meetings business then clearly the UK civil servants will be seeking meetings constantly and the EU simply have to come together to work through the impact of losing 15% of its annual budget-it will have to have meetings to sort all this out. Pan European associations will no doubt have to explore the implications of Brexit for their membership. The application of vat on UK exported meetings to the EU which should disappear? will help the cash flow of UK event companies. Rather ironically here in the UK I foresee a sudden surge in conferences about making the most of Brexit!!