Ahead of our in-depth report in the next edition of Access All Areas on the Scottish live events industry’s post-pandemic fight back, we spoke to VisitScotland director of events Paul Bush OBE about the industry’s vital contribution to the Scottish economy, and what the government body is doing to support it.
What economic impact does the live event industry have in Scotland?
The pre-2020 UK Events Report estimated that there was a direct spend of around £6bn in Scotland. Few industries have such a positive impact, the events industry provides hugely significant economic and social benefits.
One of the challenges we have is that the events industry is not as vocal sometimes as other sectors in terms of getting its case across. That is something we will probably have to be more clever at in the future in terms of demonstrating to governments, ministers, stakeholders, partners, funders and sponsors that actually this is a really important part of society.
Some shows aren’t selling as well as others, there are supply chain challenges, and then there is the impact of Brexit. What is VisitScotland doing to help the industry?
We provided significant financial support during the pandemic. I think the critical thing now is offering that guidance and support – it is not just about money. Some of it is about routes to market and routes to solutions. Among the challenges that we face at present is ticket sales; there’s no rhyme or reason, you can’t put a handle on what is selling well and why or what isn’t selling well and why.
At the top end, what might be considered bucket-list events are selling well, so TRNSMT, Ed Sheeran, the Eagles, the Royal Highland Show were all good, and we’ve got record attendance at The Open with 290,000 people, but then there are things that are really struggling
Generally, the consumer is now looking very carefully about spend, and that is also having an impact on spend at venues on F&B and merchandise.
“Probably the biggest challenge that the UK faces, and not just in the events word, is people.”
The supply chain has been a major headache. Probably the biggest challenge that the UK faces, and not just in the events word, is people. The hardest thing to get is people and it’s not just volunteers, it’s riggers, lighting engineers – it’s across everything. That will take some time to recover. Brexit has had a big impact on the cultural and the sports markets, we are facing huge challenges now in terms of people getting into countries with the current travel challenges around airports. There have been challenges getting football teams into England to the Euros, getting golfers into Scotland; it is a bit like a perfect storm.
Bizarrely, we are in a more challenging situation than during Covid because at least during Covid, relatively speaking we were in control; people were on furlough, there was not a lot happening and we could control it. There are a lot of things now that are out of our control and it’s putting real stresses and strains on the P&L of events and ultimately how people will perform over the next one to three years.
Our team is focused on advocacy, support and guidance, trying to find innovative ways to deliver things. Some events in Scotland, rather than hiring infrastructure, have invested in buying the infrastructure. So, they’ve got a long-term, depreciable, asset on the book and they are renting it out to people.
What are the key VisitScotland initiatives and campaigns this year?
We recently ran a £1m campaign under the banner The Buzz Is Back. Funded through Scottish Government, it ran for two months across radio, TV, online channels and print. The aim was to really try and rebuild consumer confidence to go back to events, but also for the wider industry in terms of the supply chain; to give them the confidence to move forward.
We had significant feedback from our counterparts in England, who wanted to replicate it, that it was a great initiative to give confidence back to the industry. Our ministers here are keen to continue to support it. The challenge we have is, in the current economic environment, that money is tight. So trying to repeat a campaign of that size and scale could be tough over the next few months, but we will consider what we need to do at the appropriate time.
“It is the hardest time that they will ever face in terms of trying to break even or make any money, and we have not walking away from that.”
We have stood by our events; some have had tough times and we have continued to fund them. We accept that for most events operators at present it is the hardest time that they will ever face in terms of trying to break even or make any money, and we have not walking away from that.
Why should promoters include Scotland in global tours or as a location for major international sporting events?
One of the greatest asset Scotland has as a nation is its people. Everywhere I travel in the world, when I’m looking to bring major events into the country, whether it be sport, business or cultural events, everyone loves the Scottisg and they love the cultural diversity that Scotland has. We are really blessed with some great venues not just in terms of outdoor spaces but also places like the Hydro, and now we’ve got P&J Live in Aberdeen, we have got some great promoters, and the other thing that is important, particularly post-Covid, is that we are good deliverers. We do what we say we will do and don’t walk away from deals. We are very committed to ensuring that people have a great experience when they come, and we work with promoters, rights holders, and event owners to ensure that they can maximise their event.