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Wales’ Events Industry – Far More than Major City-Stoppers


GUEST COLUMN:

Katrina Cookson
Head of Events & Alumni Engagement
University of South Wales

A lot has changed since I first reflected on the challenging state of the Welsh events industry amid the pandemic in 2020.

Events are back and masks, isolation, and the two-metre rule are gone.

When we think of the return of these events, most of us think of the city-stoppers, and why wouldn’t we? Between city marathons, Eisteddfodau, and visits from generation-defining artists such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Bruce Springsteen, 2024 has been full of events of this calibre.

They bring a huge economic impact, create countless jobs, and solidify Wales’ destination profile while leaving a lasting legacy full of positive benefits to the community.

It’s incredible, but it’s not all our events industry has to offer. Every day, Wales is home to meetings, events, and conferences for business audiences, taking place in towns and cities across the country. Unfortunately, the long-term economic and societal impact of these smaller events – by Beyonce’s standards at least – is often overlooked.

In reality, these events cater to and attract hundreds of delegates to our great nation every day. When you think that these are happening multiple times a day in multiple towns and cities, the numbers quickly add up. That’s when you begin to see the full scope of Wales’s vibrant and resilient events industry.

The Simple Power of Bringing People Together

It’s that spirit that truly sets Wales’ events industry apart, and showcases its ability to generate value beyond the bottom line. Consider the ripple effect of a single conference or exhibition: hotels and conference centres bustling with activity, catering firms fulfilling large orders, audio-visual companies creating immersive experiences, and freelance event staff ensuring seamless execution—all contributing to a thriving ecosystem of commerce and creativity.

That all sounds good for the bottom line, but the true spirit of our events industry lies in its capacity to enrich lives and nurture communities. Local schools and colleges find themselves invited to conferences and exhibitions, providing students with invaluable exposure to real-world issues and opportunities for work experience. Charitable organisations benefit from the generosity of event organisers, and business leaders engage in knowledge sharing and networking, unlocking innovation and collaboration that would have otherwise been out of their reach.

These events can also serve as vehicles for cultural exchange and regional pride, offering attendees a glimpse into the unique heritage and identity of Wales. From language-learning sessions to showcases of local artists and musicians, these business-focused gatherings foster a sense of belonging and appreciation for our shared heritage that could easily be forgotten about in our increasingly globalised, digital world.

It’s because of the limitless potential of events of all shapes and sizes that I’m forever grateful for my place at the University of South Wales. Call me biased, but there’s no denying the pivotal role universities like ours play in helping the events industry realise all these societal and economic benefits – and then some.

We’ve got facilities for every event, playing host to international conferences and local meetups. We give students first-hand, behind-the-scenes experience on some of the biggest events out there, and we foster the symbiotic relationship between academia and industry, playing a vital part in enriching educational opportunities and strengthening ties between institutions and communities.

I’m lucky to have a front seat to all of that, and the Welsh events industry is lucky to have the space and support to make it happen.

The Future’s Bright

This may all sound like I’m looking forward through rose-tinted glasses, but I’m well aware that it's impossible to ignore the challenges that have shaped this trajectory.

The pandemic cast a long shadow over the sector, disrupting supply chains, stifling revenues, and forcing a shift towards virtual formats. But amidst that adversity, the industry has demonstrated remarkable resilience, adapting to new realities and emerging stronger than ever.

Looking ahead, there is plenty of cause for optimism; restrictions have eased, confidence has grown, and the events industry is poised for a resurgence, fuelled by a renewed appreciation for the power of face-to-face interaction and the boundless potential of collective engagement.

With each gathering, big or small, we reaffirm our commitment to building a brighter future for Wales – one event at a time.




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