More than a quarter of the international association events that come to the UK each year are held in Scotland. This is thanks to well-established ambassador programmes in its key cities, a dedicated association sales person at tourist board Visit Scotland and world-class venues.
Glasgow's SECC is one such venue. So far this year it has housed the European Stroke Conference and the British Association of Urological Surgeons. With 22,000sqm of exhibition space, two auditoria, 34 break-out rooms and an adjoining hotel, it's little wonder that the association market accounts for 80% of its gross profit.
Kathleen Warden, international associations manager at the SECC, also attributes its success to the city's ambassador programme: "Glasgow was the first city in the UK, perhaps even one of the first in Europe, to set up an ambassador programme. We have a hotbed of talent in our universities and local business and we tap into that," she says. "We also have a brilliant convention bureau."
But Scotland's share of association business dipped slightly in 2006 and this, suggests Visit Scotland association manager Catriona Anderson, is a reflection of the increasing competition both within the home market and internationally. In a bid to counter this trend, Anderson has a number of initiatives to target the organisers and association management companies, which increasingly hold the decision-making responsibilities for organisations with peripatetic events.
"Much of our association business ties in with Scotland's key industries of life sciences, finance and energy," she says. "Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee all have ambassador programmes in place. I'm hoping to complement these and address the areas where we might be letting association business slip through our fingers, for example in areas such as St Andrews and the north of Scotland."
As well as Visit Scotland's biannual Scotland Means Business event, which targets corporate event planners, the tourist board has also established an annual Scotland Means Association Business showcase. The next is planned for March, with more than 50 venues represented.
Anderson suggests planners also consider Scotland's smaller "hidden gems" such as West Park in Dundee, which recently added the Balbeggie Suite for 120 delegates, and Stirling Management Centre, which has 76 bedrooms on site. A new 71-room hotel on the site of Easterbrook Hall and Conference Centre will also complement the Dumfries venue's facilities.
Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh can host 600 delegates in the James Watt Centre One, with an accompanying exhibition or dinner in the James Watt Centre Two. It also boasts 165 bedrooms, plus another 700 outside of term time. It has hosted Amnesty International's annual meeting and the International Society of Electro-Chemistry, and last year 56% of its business came from associations.
Perth Concert Hall has also seen a steady increase in association business since it opened two years ago and conference and events executive Michaela Ruff estimates 40% of its events business currently comes from that sector. "We have a large exhibition space in the foyer and nearby hotel accommodation is more suited to the association market than the corporate market," she says. The venue's main auditorium can seat 1,200 delegates and the British Association of Social Workers is among the organisations to have made use of the space.
Events in Scotland account for 27% of all international association meetings held in the UK.
- Around £800m of investment in new and redeveloped facilities in Scotland is either underway or planned.
- Edinburgh and Glasgow remain second only to London in the UK in terms of the number of international association meetings hosted.
- The highest attendance at an association event was 14,000 when the European Respiratory Society Congress was held in Glasgow in 2004.
- On average, Scotland hosts two association events a week.
Chris Trimmer, chief executive of the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB), arranged for the association's annual event to be held at the SECC in Glasgow in April. On behalf of the International Society of Photosynthesis Research (ISPR), she also arranged for its triennial congress to take place at the SECC in July.
The events attracted 700 and 850 delegates respectively and were so successful the SEB has booked to return to the venue in 2009. The ISPR event will be held in China in 2010. It has previously been held in Australia, Romania and Canada.
Trimmer says: "Both events, which were held over five days, had very different requirements in terms of the size of the plenary and exhibition space, and the SECC had all this in one area.
"It was easily accessible for our delegates, who came from all over the world, and there were good transport links to the venue itself. Glasgow's marketing bureau provided an accommodation booking service and the City Inn hotel, which is on the same site, is fantastic."