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Edinburgh and its ambassadors: what price the knowledge economy?

Ambassadors play a key role in helping destinations secure international association meetings.

These influential figures – from academia, science, medicine, and business – don’t just lend a bit of superficial gravitas to a city’s bid document but play a lead role in the bidding itself.

They form an important bridge between destination marketing organisations, or convention bureaux, and the sometimes hard-to-penetrate world of not-for-profit organisations.

They provide much-needed expertise, too. If you’re trying to attract an international meeting on cardiovascular radiology, say, it helps to have someone who knows what they’re talking about.

For these reasons, meetings industry leaders in Edinburgh have an anxious wait ahead of a council vote on proposed £41million budget cuts that would virtually wipe out the city’s marketing budget and lead to the potential closure of Convention Edinburgh and its ambassador scheme.

Marketing Edinburgh, the city’s promotional agency behind Convention Edinburgh, faces 89% cuts to its current £890,000 annual allocation, falling by £567,000 in 2019, and then £223,000 in 2020.

With so little left in the pot, it is hard, frankly, to see business events getting a look in.

The Edinburgh Ambassador Programme began life in 1996 and over the last 22 years has generated an impressive £900 million for the local economy, bringing 528,605 delegates to 1,348 events.

It has an impressive 540 members, but with a barely functioning marketing body to support it, its days, should the budget proposals be passed tomorrow (21), would appear to be numbered.

And that would be a real shame. Because as much as Convention Edinburgh needs ambassadors, ambassadors need Convention Edinburgh to provide their own level of expertise, too.

As Felicity Mehendale, Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, says: “Without the professional expertise and help from Marketing Edinburgh, I would not have been successful in winning the bid for the four-yearly International Cleft Conference in 2021 – this will be the first time it has ever been held in the UK. Winning bids for prestigious international congresses brings significant business to Edinburgh and many repeat visitors. However, bidding is now extremely competitive, and we simply cannot rely solely upon the academic reputation of Edinburgh – we absolutely need an organisation like Marketing Edinburgh to help with the many aspects of conference bidding which is beyond our remit as academics.”

Let’s hope Edinburgh’s councillors take note.