Global Meetings

A UK-Based Global Events Company Ponders the Brexit

UKIP Media & Events' Graham Johnson on why his company has seen a 'slight positive effect' from the historic vote — and what Switzerland and Norway suggest about Britain's economic future.

We’ve talked about the Brexit from the perspective of a global events company headquartered in Geneva, but how about one based in the UK? I recently talked with Graham Johnson, managing director of UKIP Media & Events, a magazine publisher and conference organizer based in Surrey, about 20 miles outside London.

Do you have a sense yet of how the Brexit might affect your business as a UK-based conference organizer?
We get 6 percent of our turnover, about 26 million pounds, from the UK, so very small. From our point of view, we are a global business. We run no shows in the UK whatsoever. We do business globally, so actually from our point of view, it’s early days yet, but we have seen very little effect. In fact, the biggest effect we’ve seen is, the pound has taken a hit, and we’re seeing people embrace the fact that it’s now cheaper to invigorate and advertise a bit. Rather bizarrely, certainly in the short term, it’s actually had a slight positive effect for us. But again, we’re a global business.

This is my personal opinion, but I think there probably will be — I don’t want to use the R word, so I won’t, but I think the economy in the UK will slow. There’s a great deal of uncertainty in the UK right now. There’s no prime minister. There’s no plan. I was reading the other day that over the next 10 years, 5,000 laws need to be created, because they’re all European and they need to create their own. So there’s a great deal of uncertainty in the UK. Will house prices drop? Will the price of food drop? Will taxes increase? Whenever there’s uncertainty in a country, I think it can talk itself into a downturn.

But again, from our point of view, we’re doing 6 percent of the turnover from the UK, which is hardly a big problem. Interestingly, that 6 percent is companies that are equally global, because not one single company that we work with doesn’t work globally. We don’t hold national expos. We don’t publish national magazines. Everything is global. Every exhibitor and every advertiser is a global company as well. So I don’t see an effect coming through for us.

Will this have a long-term impact on the UK as a meeting destination?
There’s arguably a really good opportunity for companies like ours to hold an awful lot of conventions, expositions, and conferences in the UK right now, because there’s so much uncertainty. Now would be an excellent time to put some shows into the UK with possible solutions. I mean, isn’t that what an exhibition is?

You have to remember that Switzerland is not a member state of the EU. Norway is not in the EU. And the last time I checked, Switzerland is getting by and Norway is not doing badly either. The thing is that EU isn’t Europe; it’s a different thing. The UK is still part of Europe — it’s geographically part of it. But Norway and Switzerland are not in the EU, and they’re very successful economies. They have open trade and so on. So I really, strongly believe that it will all shake out.

Were you surprised by the results of the vote?
I think everyone was surprised, globally. I don’t know how it’s been reported globally, but certainly here we’ve seen an awful lot of people turn around and say that they were voting to make a statement, they weren’t voting to leave. So many people were trying to sit there and say, “We’re not happy with the European Union, change needs to happen.” They weren’t actually saying they want to leave. I understand why people wanted reform. I think the irony is that now that Britain has voted to leave, there now will be reform. How daft is that? It took Britain to turn around and say we’ve had enough for [the EU] to go, “Crikey, we’ll reform now, because if we don’t, we’ll lose France, etc., etc., etc.” A daft situation to occur, but I guess sometimes people need to be shocked into action.


Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.