New optimism for Newport
I was delighted to be invited to address the Newport Summit here at Celtic Manor at the end of January but I was even more pleased to see the turnout of almost 300 people – all eager to engage and move the city forward.
The first Newport Summit took place back in 2014 and there has always been a strong desire and enthusiasm from stakeholders to improve the city’s economic prospects and counter some of the negative perceptions and thinking that sometimes beset the city.
This year I sensed an even greater optimism that things are on the up in Newport: the launch of the City Centre Masterplan, this year’s abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls, and the construction of International Convention Centre Wales to open here at Celtic Manor in 2019 all present tangible opportunities for the city to grow and develop.
My brief at the Summit was to talk on the visitor economy and there is no doubt ICC Wales is going to bring massive opportunities to Newport. Business tourists typically spend three times more in the local economy than leisure tourists so having Wales’ first major business events destination is going to act like a magnet, attracting an influx of new high-spending visitors to this region.
At the moment, Wales has just a 1.59% share of a Conference and Events market that is worth £21.8 billion a year to the UK economy. That equates to £346 million for Wales which may sound like quite a lot until you compare it to the £1.9 billion that Scotland brings in each year from this sector.
Wales punches above its weight in many areas but business tourism is not one of them - for now, at least. That is why we are building ICC Wales in partnership with Welsh Government. It is predicted the convention centre will bring an additional 100,000 bedroom nights a year to hotels in South Wales when it opens in 2019.
The media coverage following the Summit focused on the potential redevelopment of Chartist Tower as a city centre hotel and this is one of the exciting proposals on the table for Newport.
The more important wider point I made in my presentation was that it is essential that existing hotel accommodation is improved and its potential maximised, so that we give conference delegates a reason to stay in the city. We have done just that with our refurbishment of the Coldra Court by Celtic Manor costing £2 million since we acquired the old Hilton Newport in 2016.
ICC Wales will bring enormous benefits not just to hotels but also to bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and taxis and transport firms, but we need to make sure delegates and organisers enjoy their visitor experience and are keen to return.
The week after the Newport Summit, Celtic Manor hosted a Severn Growth Summit organised by the UK Government which outlined further opportunities for Newport in combination with our neighbouring cities of Cardiff and Bristol. It is time for us to stop seeing these cities as rivals and embrace the benefits we can achieve together as part of the so-called Western Powerhouse.
The abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls will enhance our connections to Bristol and the lower price of housing in and around Newport will be an attraction for commuters to move here and travel to work in Bristol. In the long term, it will encourage more businesses to settle here and enjoy Newport’s proximity to the M4 without the hindrance of the bridge toll.
With so many exciting developments surrounding us, this is a great time to relaunch the Newport Economic Network and, under the leadership of new Chair Simon Gibson, I am sure the city is in the best possible position to maximise the opportunities ahead.