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Interview - Amanda Ferguson, Convention Edinburgh

Amanda Ferguson Assembly Rooms


We interview Amanda Ferguson, Convention Edinburgh discussing Edinburgh's business tourism industry, Make it Edinburgh and what's ahead for 2019.

Tell us a little about your role?

I am head of the Business Tourism team, Convention Edinburgh at Marketing Edinburgh, which is responsible for securing meetings, conferences, incentives and other corporate events for the city. My role involves promoting Edinburgh as a world-renowned conference and events destination, and driving the overall strategic direction for securing conferences for the city.

Day to day, you’ll find me managing the Convention Edinburgh team, bidding for conferences as well as liaising with associations, local academics, key stakeholders in the city and Marketing Edinburgh members.


What is Business Tourism and why is it so important to the city?

Business tourism or business events as it is also known, encompasses conferences, meetings, corporate incentives and other corporate events. It is big business in Edinburgh with delegates spending double that of a typical leisure tourist and critically coming out with the busy summer months. This helps sustain a year round tourism sector in Edinburgh. Worth £1.9 billion to the Scottish economy, Edinburgh punches above its weight in this global sector. The city is currently ranked 32nd in the world for international association conferences – second only to London in the UK.

Business Tourism delivers significant economic impact to the city on a day to day basis. Whilst delegates are attending events, they’re using our restaurants, hotels and shops in the city – contributing to the economy year-round.   Arguably more important however is that business events stimulate our knowledge economy which drives economic growth and social progress in the city. Conferences are all about knowledge exchange, innovation and networking, attracting world-leading specialists as delegates and speakers. As host city, this is a unique opportunity for our local specialists to showcase their research and Edinburgh’s strength in that field. This can result in collaborative research, investment and ultimately jobs.

To attract business events, especially conferences, Convention Edinburgh plays a pivotal role in persuading and supporting local academics to bid for a conference. We then liaise with the venues and accommodation providers in the city to present a coherent and powerful city proposal. This is a highly competitive market so it requires a strong collaborative approach.


The business tourism industry in Edinburgh seems to be in a strong position…

We’re in an incredibly strong position, with the business tourism industry proving a significant economic driver for Edinburgh. In 2017/18 we saw £72M contributed to the local economy because of meetings confirmed by Convention Edinburgh alone – that’s not including the additional financial impact of meetings secured directly by private venues such as the Surgeons Quarter, EICC and Edinburgh First.


Edinburgh has a lot to celebrate. Last year, we announced several big wins for the city, including the 2019 global TEDSummit, the internationally recognised event for ‘spreading ideas to improve the world’, and the 6th World One Health Congress in 2020, which reinforces Edinburgh’s position as one of the world’s leading hubs for medical and health expertise.

Last year also saw the launch of new direct routes from China and Dubai to Edinburgh Airport, and we’re continuing to receive strong levels of investment from the hospitality sector - such as Richard Branson choosing Edinburgh as the location of the first Virgin hotel outside of North America and the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel creating a location within the capital. It’s investment from global brands such as these which demonstrates the confidence in our market and Edinburgh as a destination overall.


‘Make It Edinburgh’ made quite the impact since its launch, can you tell us more about the campaign?

‘Make it Edinburgh’ is a landmark campaign for the city, which celebrates Edinburgh’s unique position as a centre of excellence, innovation and heritage. It was launched late 2017 to combat the uncertainty we faced following the EU referendum. Alongside five partners from the public and private sector, and with match funding from VisitScotland, our aim was to keep Edinburgh front of mind in a global market space and generate enquiries.

The campaign celebrates and promotes Edinburgh’s strongest sectors, Technology, Life Sciences, Creative Industries, Food and Drink, Renewable Energy and Financial Services, while providing compelling reasons to choose Edinburgh for future events.

The campaign ran for 12 months initially, and to date it has been very successful thanks to the support we’ve received across the city from Marketing Edinburgh members, the universities and numerous stakeholders. As a result, we’ve seen traffic to the Convention Edinburgh website increase 86% since ‘Make it Edinburgh’ launched.


So what’s next for the campaign?

We are now relaunching the campaign for 2019. As the country negotiates the challenges of the Brexit deal and we are faced with continued uncertainty, it has never been more necessary to ensure Edinburgh is seen as ‘open for business’ on a global stage.


You mention Brexit as a challenge…

While the Edinburgh economy and tourism sector are in many respects thriving, it would be amiss to say there are not challenges. It goes without saying that Brexit is the challenge we face in 2019. However, we are proud of our successes and remain confident about our potential. Convention Edinburgh is working hard to continue promoting Edinburgh to the world, and with a new sales team on board we have a fresh impetus to meet these challenges.


But there are opportunities?

We have an opportunity to build on the success of ‘Make it Edinburgh’ and continue to garner further support across all areas of the tourism industry. We also want to further our connections with the wider economy in Edinburgh, helping to build the understanding of how business events can act as a tool to achieve economic growth and social progress.


What has to be done to ensure Edinburgh remains competitive as a business tourism destination?

Now is not the time to be quietly confident or rest on our laurels – whatever happens, we need to ensure the world knows that Edinburgh’s knowledge economy continues to thrive and is eager to welcome host conferences.  That is the work that we have always done and will continue to do at Convention Edinburgh.

We need partnership working across the city more than ever. No man is an island, and this is a case where everyone must pull together – that is the core of what the ‘Make it Edinburgh’ campaign is about. Knowledge sharing knows no boundaries and sitting out with the European Union won’t change Edinburgh’s status as a hub of excellence. We absolutely can’t let geopolitics be a barrier between our areas of expertise and the rest of the world.