Budget response: ‘Most events industry people don’t fly business class’

Wednesday’s Autumn Budget got a mixed response from the events industry, as a freeze on Air Passenger Duty was balanced by a hike on the cost of premium-class flight tickets.

But the cut in business rates was welcomed, as was the promised investment in full-fibre broadband and a freeze on wine, spirits and beer.

Three senior figures in the events industry to get their take on whether the government’s latest budget contained anything to get excited about.

Nic Cooper, CEO at Sledge

“I think the hike in business and first class fares will have minimal or no effect at all, when you consider the overall cost of a ticket in the first place,” says Cooper. “Clients still do travel business class, though premium economy is perhaps more favoured, from my experience.

“The government can always do more to support the events industry. Specifically, they could sort out the car crash that is the current Brexit negotiations. There is absolutely no clarity for foreign workers vital to our hotel and hospitality industry or a clear indication on travel, border controls and associated issues.”

Stephen Morton-Prior, director of Clearwater Events

I don’t think many in the industry still travel business or first class,” says Morton-Prior. “From an incentive point of view, clients are becoming a lot more savvy and saying ‘well, we can use the money on the flight or we can use it on the destination’. So we’re finding that more would rather spend the money at the destination than on the flight.

“If it’s a short-haul or even medium-haul programme, there’s an immediate focus on the low-cost market anyway. EasyJet and Jet2 have got such an amazing group product that we’re finding they are as good as if not better than the premium carriers.”

“The reductions in business rates that are being brought in are going to have a positive impact on us because every penny counts. Even if we can save a couple of hundred pounds, that pays for a marketing campaign, for example. Or it’s money we can invest in infrastructure and IT. So any money we can save is always going to be very welcome and will have a bottom line impact on us.

“There are a number of things the government could be doing right now. We’re seeing a lot of European companies coming to the UK [for events] and the reason they’re coming here is because the euro is so strong against the pound.

“Now that’s maybe not something the government wants to shout about, but from a MICE point of view, it is because the UK’s suddenly become a much more affordable place to come and do your events, especially from Europe. A comparable product in Belgium or the Netherlands could cost 20% more than it would here.”

Simon Hughes, vice-chair at Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP)

“Britain is already seen as quite an expensive destination and although that doesn’t completely guide buying decisions, anything marginal that adds to the cost of getting people to the UK offsets any advantage we have on the APD freeze. It’s a kind of zero-sum win,” says Hughes.

“If you’re organising a big congress event, you’re probably not going to be handing out loads of business class and first class tickets, but you might need to if you want to attract some of the big global speakers that are required to make some of those events work. That’s where the impact will come in, not so much on the mass delegates, but on the contributors and speakers.

“The change to business rates will help to a certain extent with business planning, but in some ways it seems to be responding to a problem that was created by the last business rates review. If you talk to people in the hospitality sector, where people have really been hit hard by the hike in business rates, it will offer them a bit more certainty.

“I think we’re all hanging our hats on the industrial strategy work that’s being completed and I know that’s gone forward and an announcement is expected soon. There is an opportunity for the government to recognise the value of the events industry. Particularly in relation to the way business events and visits are positioned in terms of productivity.

“When the chancellor spoke about the UK forging a new future for itself and looking at technological advances, he used driverless cars as an example. But that’s such an easy, obvious example to pick; it’s quite disappointing from my perspective.

“He could have talked about the UK being a destination with some of the leading creative agencies in the world delivering fantastic events for their clients.

“He could have talked about the digital economy because so many people in the events sector are also using digital to promote their events and add value to them. But he didn’t, he went for something that was so blindingly obvious. I think it lacked imagination.”