ICC Wales will bring a world of opportunity
While the new International Convention Centre Wales cannot be missed as it takes physical shape alongside the M4, I still think people are failing to realise the full impact it is going to have on the landscape of the local economy.
When we started this joint venture with the Welsh Government, we were passionate about the impact it would have on the local economy. On this project, we make sure we use local businesses and suppliers wherever possible, whether that be for food, drink or construction.
To date we have awarded contracts worth more than £22 million to local businesses in Wales. By completion in the summer of 2019, I am confident the construction phase will exceed the £50 million estimate we projected it would bring to the local economy. But that is just the start of the benefits this new facility will bring.
The convention business is worth about £22 billion to the UK economy. That is a huge sum and Wales’ share of that right now is about 1.5% purely because we don’t have the facility or the infrastructure. ICC Wales will allow us into that market.
We know people are itching to bring their events to Wales because we are currently turning away their business at Celtic Manor because we don’t have the capacities to cope with their requirements. ICC Wales will change that.
It opens up the association market to us and events that attract upwards of 1,000 people. They usually entail two or three-night stays and delegates often bring their spouses with them.
While the delegate is in conference, the spouse is out exploring the country they are in. When clients choose venues, they are choosing a destination. That means we are selling Wales and Newport to these associations.
The opportunity is not just for the Celtic Manor, far from it. We run at about 90% occupancy, so we don’t have more space to give. It’s imperative that others take advantage of the demand ICC Wales will generate for hotel space and it’s really encouraging that a prestigious chain like Mercure has come in to develop a new hotel at the Chartist Tower in the centre of Newport.
We already have events confirmed for ICC Wales which will provide an estimated £10m boost to the local economy. The visitor economy – for both leisure and business – is huge and it is underplayed a lot of the time.
Leisure guests enjoy their time in Wales, whether they are on coastal walks or other activities, but business tourists spend three times as much in the local economy. ICC Wales will be hosting game-changing events that will really put Wales on the map and bring thousands of these business tourists into the country.
They spend money on taxis, restaurants and bars but they also come back if they are impressed. About 60% of all business tourists come back as a leisure guest. That’s why we have to get it right.
I worked in Glasgow in the 1990s when it reinvented itself as a leisure destination beneath the banner of ‘Smiles Better’. That may seem a bit cheesy now but when a guest gets in a cab from the station, they need to be properly welcomed to Newport and be asked about why they’re here and what plans they have.
The whole city got behind the transformation of Glasgow and that’s what has to happen in Newport. We all know Newport has its negatives, but we have to all be prepared to shout about the positive aspects of the city – and there are plenty of them.
Our ICC Wales team has already been engaging with local businesses for more than a year about how they can best benefit from the new convention centre and we have to be promoting the amazing things we can offer as a city, not least our incredible location as the gateway to Wales.
This opportunity is too important to be missed.
Read these and other thoughts in a recent interview I gave to Kevin Ward for Business News Wales