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INTERNATIONAL MARKETING: Swapping backpacks for briefcases

The word 'tourism' naturally conjures up images of beaches and ice creams, not boardrooms and briefcases. In fact until now, 'business tourism' has been a market sector that hasn't received the attention it deserves; the UK government's tourism strategy board recently admitting it was “one of the most lucrative, yet least well acknowledged components of our tourist industry”. But in the build up to the 2012 Olympic Games, a strategy set up by national tourism agency VisitBritain aims to build awareness of the powerful impact business events are having on the UK economy, especially in the run up to the main event itself.

The strategy, named EventBritain, has been borne partly out of extensive lobbying by trade body the Events Industry Alliance (EIA) urging the Government to recognise the growing impact of events on the UK economy. According to the EIA there has been a recent resurgence in live event marketing, with more events, more visitors, more space and more business in the capital than ever before. And now is the perfect time for London to capitalise even further on its status by marketing itself as the 'Olympic City'. In a nutshell, EventBritain wants to promote London as the ultimate business destination and hoover up events opportunities that might otherwise be placed overseas. So how will it do this and more importantly, who will benefit?

According to Trevor Foley, CEO of the EIA, the buzz of excitement now surrounding business tourism has been a long time coming. “The VisitBritain initiative recognises the fact that events deliver their highest paying visitors and that the Olympics present an opportunity to capitalise on it,” he says. And it's little wonder when figures the body recently published speak for themselves. According to its statistics, the average spend per visit by a person attending a business exhibition, trade fair or large conference is 44 per cent higher than the spend of a general leisure visitor. What's more, it is estimated that business visits and events are likely to accrue up to 50 per cent of the overall benefit from the London Olympics. Even more concrete evidence of the strong interest in event marketing came from VisitBritain earlier this year; the Confex show – the biggest event of its kind for organisers of conferences, meetings and exhibitions in Europe – grew visitor numbers by 16 per cent to over 12,500 when it was held at London's Earl's Court in April. That marks its biggest hike in visitor numbers in seven years.