Getting the year off to a flying start
2019 is going to be such an important year as we look forward to opening the new International Convention Centre Wales – a venue which is going to be such a game-changer in shaping Wales as a destination for business events.
We’ve made a great start to the year with enquiries to bring new events to ICC Wales really stepping up in volume during January – to almost double what we were seeing at the end of 2018.
We’ve already secured business on the books which is going to be worth more than £22m to the local economy and there’s a real sense that figure is going to ramp up significantly in the six months before we open. The excitement we have felt throughout the two-year build is now reverberating through the events industry as we get ready to launch.
We will not have a second chance to make a first impression and that applies not just to the ICC Wales venue, but to the entire destination. We have been working with partners and stakeholders to stress the importance of acting together to create a consistent delegate journey that has a warm Welsh welcome shining all the way through it – from the step off the train or the plane, through the station or airport concourse, into the bus or taxi ride and the greeting at our bars, restaurants and hotels across the region.
We held a Team Wales Business Accelerator breakfast event at Celtic Manor a couple of weeks ago to build these partnerships and the response was fantastic, you could feel a real buzz in the room as we talked about working collectively to maximise the opportunity presented by ICC Wales.
Sir Terry Matthews kicked us off by explaining his reasons for building this exceptional new venue in partnership with Welsh Government, and then we had a really inspiring Case Study from Scott Taylor, who led Glasgow’s remarkable growth in tourism, conventions and major events for almost 20 years.
As the founding CEO of the city’s Marketing Bureau attracting events to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Scott helped the city secure £1.2 billion in revenue in just 10 years and led the successful rebranding of the city with People Make Glasgow. I was working in Glasgow for some of this time and clearly remember how perceptions of the city were transformed from a quite a grim, industrial place to the vibrant, visitor city we see today.
We need to make sure that the new national and international visitors we attract to ICC Wales leave with just that kind of favourable impression of our destination here in Wales, and everyone needs to play their part in that.
We broke down the rest of the Business Accelerator event into panel discussions on three key areas: Building a Destination for Business Events; Upskilling Staff and a Warm Welsh Welcome; and Investing in Improvements and Access to Funding.
The destination is as much about its people as its place. One poor interaction can undermine a delegate’s entire journey so it is vital that everyone from taxi drivers to bar tenders and front desk agents are trained to deliver a warm welcome that reflects our incredible national pride in Wales.
As well as training our staff, we also need to upgrade facilities in hotels and hospitality venues to meet the demands and expectations of these delegates. At Celtic Manor we invested in the purchase and immediate refurbishment of the former Hilton Hotel on the Coldra roundabout because we knew ICC Wales would bring the demand for neighbouring accommodation.
Even before ICC Wales opens, the business results have been beyond our expectations at the rebranded Coldra Court Hotel by Celtic Manor. Occupancy is up 20 per cent, revenue is up 40 per cent and profits are up by 50 per cent since we took over in 2016.
It was great that we had senior representatives from Barclays, NatWest and HSBC banks on this investment panel, who all confirmed they have funding available to support similar acquisition and refurbishment programmes. There are already some exciting projects for new hotels in Newport and Cardiff, and we will need more to support the influx of visitors coming to ICC Wales.
A recurring theme of the day was very much that we have already talked the talk, now it’s time to really grasp the opportunity and take action. What is really encouraging is the follow-up emails I have received from the likes of Cardiff Airport and the Welsh Assembly, wishing to take these action points further and we are setting up new meetings to do just this.
It’s so important we get this right because business event tourism has the potential to be the biggest single driver of economic growth in Wales for the next 10 years and more. I have recently been invited to join the Visit Britain Board as a Welsh Government representative and one of the first priorities is bidding for a new Tourism Sector Deal as part of the UK Government’s wider Industrial Strategy.
A couple of the areas identified are “business events”, a sector already worth £42.3 billion to the UK, and “making tourism and hospitality a career for life” which touches directly on the training and upskilling we discussed at the Business Accelerator event.
I am confident ICC Wales offers some exciting ways to support this and I’m really looking forward to working closely with both Welsh Government and Visit Britain, as well as all our other partners, to grasp this unique opportunity.