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Edinburgh departure from BestCities a ‘shock outcome’, says alliance MD

As a founding member of 20 years’ standing, Edinburgh’s departure from BestCities Global Alliance came as a shock.

Current BestCities MD Lesley Williams felt the loss particularly keenly, having spent seven years as head of tourism at Marketing Edinburgh. She spoke to M&IT about the departure of the Scottish capital from the alliance, as well as how collaboration and sharing knowledge are key pillars of its future.

The alliance is made up of 11 cities – Berlin, Bogota, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Houston, Madrid, Melbourne, Singapore, Tokyo and Vancouver.

One notable absence is any UK destination city amongst BestCities convention bureaus. Up until December 2019, Edinburgh was a founding member for 20 years.

The Scottish city’s departure from the alliance was unfortunate, due to extensive funding cuts from the public sector which hit Marketing Edinburgh after 89 per cent of its budget was slashed over the next two financial years.

For Williams, new managing director of BestCities Global Alliance, this was a personal hit, having previously worked as head of business tourism at Marketing Edinburgh’s Convention Bureau (MECB), with a remit to source and bid for international and national conferences in the Scottish city.

“We lost Edinburgh very sadly. Particularly sadly for me, having spent seven years marketing Edinburgh. As a result of withdrawing their funding, Edinburgh unfortunately had to withdraw from BestCities. It’s a shock outcome that they had to leave the alliance,” Williams said.

Lesley Williams.

Lesley Williams.

“I think the situation in Edinburgh from an industry perspective means that we need to get the ‘beyond tourism’ message out there. The industry has to stop measuring or seeing the success of business events purely in terms of coffee cups and bed nights. That’s important – of course it is – but it’s also the societal and political impact that comes with a business event.”

Williams took on the role of managing director of BestCities Global Alliance, on 1 January 2020. Previously, she had served for the previous two years as the organisation’s market development director.

Williams took over from Paul Vallee, who continues as executive consultant of GainingEdge, who was awarded the BestCities management contract after a competitive bid.

Williams sets out her store for BestCities, saying: “Our key purpose is to harness the power of collaboration and community to create positive impact through business events.”

Williams highlights the work done with Copenhagen CVB and BestCities who collaborated on an in-depth piece of future research with future scientists and designers. The study paints a picture of four scenarios for 2040 on what the meetings industry could look like in the decades to come.

Looking at her goals as MD of BestCities, Williams says she would welcome applications from UK destinations. “My role is to navigate whatever comes our way in the next 20 years and to embrace change. The world is changing at the rate of knots.”

“One scenario is where technology has progressed so far that event planners feel they are behind the curve in their skills. People feel that their professional skills are slightly obsolete. There could be a need to redefine working lives.”