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VisitScotland’s Bush: Events industry must act on macro threats and innovate to stay relevant

A series of “macro threats” pose risks to the sporting and cultural events hosting model in Scotland and internationally, according to Paul Bush, director of events at VisitScotland, the national tourism agency.

Speaking at VisitScotland’s National Events Conference at Gleneagles, the venue for this week’s Solheim Cup, Bush underlined the importance of “embracing innovation and delivering change in an ever-changing dynamic and at times unpredictable world”.

Since the foundation of the EventScotland arm of VisitScotland in 2003, a series of high-profile sports events have been held in the country. These have been headlined by the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the 2014 Ryder Cup, the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and the inaugural European Championships in 2018.

However, as VisitScotland plots its events hosting strategy to take it up until 2030, Bush sounded a note of caution on the need to react to market dynamics. He reiterated his belief that Scotland’s event’s industry “is in great shape”, but stressed the importance of evolving and innovating in order to “stay relevant”.

Bush said: “There are an increasing number of macro threats that we need to be aware of alongside the many opportunities we have both as an industry as a society.”

Threats and challenges cited by Bush include: possible saturation in the tourism market, public referendums on holding events, climate change and sustainability, plus increasing pressure on budgets and sponsorship.

The issue of “player and athlete autonomy”, as characterised by leading professional swimmers’ moves to establish the International Swimming League, was also underlined by VisitScotland’s director of events.

The risk of the traditional spectator becoming disenfranchised and no longer engaged with an event, or whether an event’s benefits are properly articulated were further issues flagged up.

Bush remarked: “The current events model measured against traditional impacts is outdated, outmoded and indeed if we continue down this track, will put our industry at risk.” He called on the events industry to take risks, be aspirational and ensure transformational behavioural change.

As examples of that behaviour change in the sustainability area, Bush highlighted the refillable water bottle initiative at golf’s 2019 Scottish Open. In a first at the event, players, caddies, volunteers and staff were issued with reusable water bottles in a bid to cut single-use plastic bottle consumption by 80 per cent. The caddies’ bibs at this week’s Solheim Cup are made from recyclable ocean plastics, which cost “half the price” of the normal materials, according to Bush.

Over 1,000 cultural, music and sports events have been supported by EventScotland since 2003 and have generated over £1.3bn (€1.45bn/$1.6bn) in net economic impact for Scotland, according to statistics from the events organisation.