IN times such as these, when even an eternal optimist with tendencies towards blissful ignorance would struggle to describe the UK economy as anything better than weak, it is all the more crucial for Scotland to target more lively overseas markets.

Exporting, of course, is crucial. But it is also vital for Scotland to attract visitors from overseas and, in this context, there have been a couple of pieces of good news this week.

With the Conservatives’ Brexit shambles weighing very heavily indeed on overall UK growth, which was in any case no great shakes before, encouraging news on the economic front in Scotland seems hard to come by these days.

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Scotland, of course, is facing the same major economic challenges as the rest of the UK, including difficulties arising from the plunge in sterling and the surge in inflation resulting from the Brexit vote. Embattled UK consumers are being squeezed hard again by falling real wages, and businesses are scared to invest amid huge uncertainty over what on earth happens next.

Against this unattractive backdrop, figures this week showing Glasgow secured a record amount of future conference business in the 12 months to March, worth an estimated £142 million in revenues over the period to 2022, were particularly welcome.

Also encouraging was the clear signal, in the Glasgow Convention Bureau’s (GCB’s) figures, that the city was benefiting increasingly from its international reputation in the medical and life sciences field.

During the year to March, Glasgow secured 526 UK and international conferences, which will be held over the period to 2022 and are expected to attract an additional 140,000 business tourists to the city.

Notably, Glasgow won 70 international association conferences in the year to March. In the 2011/12 financial year, it secured 43 such conferences. This represents an increase of 63 per cent.

GCB, part of Glasgow City Council’s Glasgow Life arm, cited the European Association for the Study of Obesity annual congress as one of the major medical and life sciences conferences won in 2016/17. This conference is expected to bring 2,500 delegates to the city in 2019, injecting £4m into the local economy.

In the 12 months to March, 158 medical and life sciences conferences were secured for future years, greater than the 123 won during the prior 12 months and the 101 procured in the year to March 2015.

This is impressive. And Glasgow’s success in capitalising on its expertise in this arena is a fine demonstration of the strong partnership approach of the public sector, the universities, the conference venues, and the wider business community in bringing major conferences to the city.

Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at GCB, meanwhile declared that other key sectors contributing to Glasgow’s business tourism growth included energy, sustainability, low-carbon industries, technology and engineering.

Glasgow’s continuing success in capitalising on its areas of strength to win conference business, attracting thousands of overseas visitors and bringing large numbers of people from the rest of the UK to the city, is something worth celebrating from a Scottish economic perspective. So too is Edinburgh’s success on the conference front.

A survey this week from consultancy AlixPartners showed Edinburgh’s hotel sector achieved a 23 per cent year-on-year leap in revenue per available room in the second quarter. This was enabled partly by sterling’s weakness since the Brexit vote, which has made the UK a cheaper destination for overseas visitors.

While hotel sector buoyancy is obviously welcome, it is important to bear in mind that sterling weakness reflects the UK’s diminished economic prospects now and over coming years and decades as a result of the Brexit vote. We should also not forget the Scottish hotel sector’s need for employees from elsewhere in the European Union.

The strength of the Edinburgh hotel sector also reflected the city’s popularity as a conference destination, AlixPartners noted, flagging a 1,200-strong delegation at the Microbiology Society Annual Conference in April. AlixPartners also cited the major benefits reaped by Edinburgh’s hotel sector from the 12 festivals hosted by the city.

While it is natural for Glasgow and Edinburgh to look at their relative rankings in various league tables of international conference venues, there is plenty of business for both of them to chase. And the cities should be able to benefit from each other’s success, in terms of increased international awareness of what Scotland has to offer.

It is encouraging to see major investment in the hotel sectors in both cities, which will ensure there is plenty of capacity to host large numbers of conference delegates as well as tourists.

While sterling weakness appears to be boosting leisure tourism in Scotland, it would seem likely to have much less of an effect in terms of attracting international conferences. Big conferences tend to be booked years in advance, and price would seem unlikely to be as big a factor as for leisure visitors in any case.

In the context of Brexit, however, the UK’s baffling and bizarre removal of itself from the EU might well make it harder to attract some European conferences. This might be a particular issue in the likes of the medical and life sciences field. It is interesting to note the European Medicines Agency is having to move from London to a continuing EU member state because of Brexit.

Scotland’s conference sector obviously wins business from further afield, from the likes of North America, but the importance of the European dimension cannot be underestimated.

All that Edinburgh or Glasgow can do to try to mitigate any Brexit-related damage to their conference sector prowess is continue to play to their strengths. Partnerships between the public and private sectors and academia will also remain crucial as the cities aim to build on an impressive track record.