The long-awaited Convention Centre, Dublin officially opened for business on 7 September after 40 months of construction, and anticipation. Sarah O’Donnell walks the floor to see what it will offer the local and international meetings industry.
The grand opening of the Convention Centre, Dublin (The CCD), was welcomed by a host of local meetings industry professionals, who hope Ireland can now seriously compete in the international association meetings market.
As Ireland’s first purpose-built conference centre, which is a result of a public private partnership between the Irish Government and Spencer Dock Convention Centre Dublin, the venue can host events for up to 8,000 people.
Its management, the NEC Group, which has venues such as the International Convention Centre in Birmingham in its remit and is contracted to the new build for 25 years, says 150 events have already been secured worth €110m (£91m) in economic benefit for Dublin. The venue’s CEO, Nick Waight, says if every delegate turned up for these conferences, the figure would be closer to €400m.
Those first to take up the new meetings space include the International Bar Association, due in October 2012 for 3,000 delegates; the International Statistics Institute, August 2011, 3,000 delegates; and the International Association Volunteer Effort, September 2012, 2,000 delegates.
Banqueting events already in the books include Ireland Stand Up To Cancer, October 2010; and the Irish Hospitality Institute Founders Banquet and Hospitality Awards, November 2010.
“The opening of the CCD marks the beginning of a new era for convention and business tourism in Ireland,” said the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, at the opening ceremony. “Tourism is a vital export industry for Ireland and is an essential part of the Government’s strategy for economic recovery and job creation.”
The CCD, located on the banks of the River Liffey, claims to be the world’s first carbon neutral convention centre and was designed by Pritzker-Prize winning and Irish-born architect, Kevin Roche. “We started with a very ambitious programme that had to be positioned on a small site,” he says. “The space began to develop vertically and in the end this enabled us to create a venue that I hope you want to visit again and again. This is key; the convention centre is not just the norm and every space where a delegate meets can spark conversation and an exchange of ideas,” Roche adds.
The venue is the first Irish public access building in the last 100 or so years and its green credentials are of the highest importance to its management. The team are working towards the long-term environmental sustainability accreditation in accordance with ISO 14001. Key to this was its implementation of a 100 per cent renewable energy source via wind or wave power and its waste management system has reduced its output by 85 per cent.
Deputy Director Great Britain at Tourism Ireland, David Boyce, says: “One of the main reasons delegates choose to come to Ireland is its green credentials.”
The CCD Executive Chairman, Dermod Dwyer, says: “The iconic landmark will allow us to demonstrate new international standards of hospitality, coupled with the renowned Irish welcome. I am confident we are on track to reach our goal of being recognised as the best conference centre in Europe by 2014.”
The CCD’s Waight says it has been quite a journey: “The building is one of the best equipped and most flexible convention centres in existence and our team will ensure we can compete with the top conference venues worldwide. We look forward to welcoming the world to Dublin’s doorstep.”
The gala opening for 870 local and international industry stakeholders featured Irish pop band Westlife. Staged in the Liffy Suite, the attendee list included 120 international buyers, press, and representatives from the meetings industry.
The Irish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Mary Hanafin, officially opened The CCD by scanning her palm on an electronic entry keypad.
“This is the latest edition to the landscape of Dublin and is therefore the latest symbol of a proud and confident Ireland,” Hanafin said. “We hope the centre will attract those who strive to improve the world through effective communication in conventions and we hope delegates will feel inspired by the Irish people. As we say: ‘You are here to do business, but stay to see the country’.”
The opening of the centre coincided with the national tourism development authority Fáilte Ireland’s annual ‘Meet in Dublin’ networking and familiarisation. The 120 buyers converged on The CCD to meet a collection of Irish trade partners of Fáilte Ireland. The event’s aim was to showcase Ireland and its facilities to international decision makers in the lucrative MICE sector.
“The aim of the event is to continue to facilitate meaningful business opportunities between the Irish business tourism suppliers with international associations, corporate clients and incentive agencies,” says Chief Executive of Fáilte Ireland, Shaun Quinn. “A significant investment has taken place with the development and improvement of so much of our business tourism product over recent years.”
In a major coup for the venue, The CCD was chosen to host the Globe Forum, which will be hosted by Dublin City as part of its annual Innovation Festival. The event, taking place on 17 and 18 November, is an international marketplace conference around the challenge of how cities can harness innovation and build economies that are smarter and greener. Attracting over 1,000 delegates, including innovators, investors, researchers and leaders of business and government, this event will create an innovative forum to share ideas, network and help develop sustainable businesses around the world.
Speaking to CN, the CEO of Globe Forum and co-founder of Skype, Johan Gorecki, says: “There is a strong case for networking in Ireland and it is based on trust. A handshake means a lot in Ireland and the event will attract over 1,000 delegates with live satellite links for those unable to attend.
“We chose The CCD as we wanted the event to be associated with a venue that represented the very same ideals as us,” added Gorecki.
The CCD’s Waight believes in the same trail of thought. “Going forward, the NEC Group are looking to expand its management portfolio into cities that follow a similar ethos, with a particular focus on new builds similar to The CCD.
“As for competition in the international association conference market,” he adds, “we feel centres such as those in Madrid and Barcelona are on our level. Locally, however, as prices have come down recently in Ireland, every event space has become competition for us.”
Convention centres, it seems, are no longer enormous venues on the outskirts of a city, but rather places that attract delegates into the centre of a city. A convention centre, such as The CCD, can act as a catalyst for communication and as an international beacon for what the city itself stands for. Whether or not this icon of a ‘proud and confident’ nation delivers what its local meetings industry hopes is yet to be seen. It is still early days. As Dwyer says: “A good opening is half the battle and the end of the first act.”
The CCD quick facts
• 22 meeting rooms
• 2,000-seat auditorium with full theatrical stage and fly tower
• 4,500sqm of exhibition space
• Theatre capacity for 3,000 delegates in The Forum
• Banqueting facilities for up to 5,000 guests
• Two large cargo lifts, which cost over €3m, including a truck container lift
• Located beside the new ‘LUAS’ tram line with its own station
• Minutes from Dublin Port Ferry Terminal
• Only 20 minutes from Dublin Airport
• Within walking distance of hotels, restaurants, theatres, cafes and many visitor attractions
• The Liffey Suite could accommodate 250,000 pints of Guinness