The Bond Between Two Cities in Two Countries

Photo Caption: Chris Foy, chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire

This Just In

The Christmas tree that shone proudly at the end of Union Street in Aberdeen, Scotland, last month was an annual gift from the people of Stavanger, Norway, a gift that recognises the close bond between the two cities.

What is the genesis of this close relationship? Chris Foy, chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, who has more than 25 years of tourism-industry experience in executive roles, shares what brought the two cities together in the past, how they are working together to refocus their economies going forward, and why business events are critical to this effort.

Please tell us about the history of this close relationship between Aberdeen and Stavanger.

For the past four decades, these outward-looking port cities have played host to the North Sea oil boom. The supply ships in both harbours and helicopters at both airports are a visible testimony to an industry that stems from deep under water and extends far beyond the horizon. Aberdeen and Stavanger have prospered by serving the supply chain for the oil and gas sector during peaks and troughs, and both are hosts to Europe’s major energy expos, Offshore Europe and ONS, which rotate biannually between the two cities.

The oil and gas sector has undergone many changes in recent years. What have been the effects on these two cities?
Changing circumstances in the oil and gas sector — a reduction in the price of oil, and the longer-term decline in output in the North Sea basin — are forcing both economies to re-assess their competitive strengths and diversify into new sectors. The strategy adopted by both is to use their specialism in oil and gas, which has built up over many years, to become global centres of excellence for the wider energy sector.

How do events factor into this?
Conferences and exhibitions are both a microcosm of this change, and a major contributor to the new economies of North East Scotland and Norway’s west coast. The biannual oil and gas shows are adapting — decommissioning is becoming a sector in its own right. Expertise in renewable energy is being sought at these shows and the positive attitude in both cities is reflected in ambitions to attract a greater portfolio of business events.

The innovation within Aberdeen’s academic powerhouse has secured more patents than anywhere in the U.K., apart from Cambridge — a calling card for associations from medical to engineering who wish to meet among great minds. When the new Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre opens in 2019, its 48,000 sqm of floor space will deliver world-class hospitality to match the intellectual experience delegates have in the city. On the other side of the North Sea, the renovated Stavanger Forum will mirror this effort on Norway’s west coast.

How will both cities continue to collaborate?
There’s a lot these two cities can learn from each other as they face up to the challenges of developing their new economic bases. Through bilateral dialogue and working with initiatives like the Energy Cities Alliance — a partnership of business events industry organisations, with a common focus on ensuring conferences and exhibitions held in their destinations are successful — ideas and solutions that deliver great business events will continue to be shared.

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