Leeds plans campaign to win back lucrative conferences after huge hit to business tourism

A marketing campaign to encourage the return of lucrative conferences to Leeds is to launch in the autumn – after the city’s economy lost out on hundreds of millions of pounds from the cancellation of events due to coronavirus.

The Royal Armouries is one of the most popular conference venues in Leeds. Picture: James Hardisty

Leeds is the fifth most popular conferencing destination in the UK, with business tourism worth more than £550m in an ordinary year and events bringing 3.5m delegates to the city.

The Government announced last month that the nation’s £32bn business conference industry can potentially restart events from October 1 with social distancing measures in place.

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Among the Government guidance for restarting conferences is an end to physical badges and lanyards, reduced capacity in venues, the introduction of one-way systems and staggered entrance times to cut queues.

Belinda Eldridge, head of service for inward investment, international relations and visitor economy at Leeds City Council, said interest in holding events in the city again is gradually starting to increase but work is taking place by the council’s Conference Leeds organisation to launch a wider recovery campaign in September and October to further bring back business.

She said it had been an incredibly challenging year for the sector.

“We have gone from delivering over 50,000 conferences in 2019 to after this March there being none really,” she said.

“Last year it contributed over £560m to the local economy and we are expecting that to reduce by at least a third. A lot of jobs were furloughed across the city in the conferencing sector and if we can really try to accelerate the recovery we should be able to save as many as we can.”

She said while interest in holding future events is down in where it was this time last year, there are some signs of matters picking up.

“We are starting to see conferences enquiries coming back,” she said. “That is a positive and we are starting to see an awful lot of enquiries for next year and the year after and in five years.

“It is absolutely crucial that delegates feel safe and secure and the health of customers and their guests will be the first priority.

“Digital events can allow increased attendance but it is no substitute for face-to-face.”

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