Why choose Wales?

Although still lacking an international standard convention centre in its capital, The Land of my Fathers is certainly a land for blowing away conference cobwebs, with three National Parks and scenic backdrops (including mountains and coastal vistas) for events of all kinds.

With The Vale Resort, the Millennium stadium and two premier league football stadiums (Cardiff and Swansea), sporting venues aren’t in short supply in South Wales.

If you want real seclusion for your event, how about taking your management development programme or leadership training to West or Mid-Wales?

Gregynog, near Newtown in Powys, is one historic venue that hosted the first meeting of the League of Nations (UN) in the 1920s.

Situated within a 750-acre National Nature Reserve and with large art and furniture collections, Gregynog has hosted The Antiques Roadshow and reports education and training income up 8.7 per cent on last year and turnover of £1m. “With substantially subsidised rates, it would be £2m if we charged the going rate,” says management.

Conference business has come from environmental groups, British Antarctic Survey in June and Natural Resources Wales, as well as political conferences including the Welsh Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru.

Medical conferences have included the UK Rural Doctors Conference and Palliative Care, both returning clients. The Welsh Air Ambulance went to Gregynog in March last year, and were able to land a helicopter there.

In the South-West, Pembrokeshire offers venues including hotels such as The Giltar or The Fourcroft in Tenby, through to the larger complex offered by Bluestone National Park.

The Tree Tops Trail at Heatherton World of Adventures offers trails through the canopy of the trees and you can take your team scrambling up and across rocks, jumping into the frothy white water of the sea with Celtic Quest Coasteering, Cardiff Council leaders, meanwhile, acknowledge the lack of a world-class convention centre is “a major structural economic weakness” for the city.

Councillor Russell Goodway, Cabinet Member for Finance and Economic Development, said: “An International Convention Centre, capable of attracting global conferences and events has to be a priority as it will help contribute towards efforts to attract inward investment.”

Four potential sites have been identified: the County Hall in Cardiff Bay, the Red Dragon cinema complex, the Brains brewery site and Callaghan Square.

Time is of the essence, as Cardiff faces competition not just from Bristol over the border, but from nearby Newport where the Celtic Manor Resort is keen to develop a convention centre.

North Wales

North Wales offers a rugged Welsh landscape and a large stock of accommodation.  
Connections to the motorway networks of the North of England make the region more accessible than most in the Principality.

Llandudno offers delegates a choice of 138 graded hotels and guesthouses and is where Venue Cymru conference centre sits overlooking the promenade.

Conference and Events Manager at Venue Cymru Adrian LaTrobe says: “Despite the knock-on effects of the recession, 2013 has been a great year for enquiries. Since our £11m expansion in 2006 we have continued to target large events”. He highlights three key USPs at the venue which manages over 1,000 events a year: stunning location, outstanding quality and exceptional value.

Highlights from the venue’s 2013 events calendar have included: the National Federation of Women’s Institutes Annual Conference in April, The Royal British Legion Annual Conference in May and the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru Annual Conference in June. To come this year are: the National Association of Probation Officers Conference & AGM and the European Ropes Course Association (ERCA) UK conference, both in October.

Meik Haselbach, ERCA Project Manager, says: “It’s our first time at Venue Cymru. We chose it because it will match our needs – a large exhibition space combined with multiple seminar rooms. We are looking forward to meeting on the lovely North Wales coast.” 

LaTrobe and his team have spent years building strong relationships with Llandudno’s accommodation providers. “Organisers and delegates who tire of the bland lack of character that is apparent in so many national hotel groups welcome the sheer variety of Llandudno’s hotels and guesthouses,” he says.

In 2013 an estimated 50,000 bed nights will be generated from events held at Venue Cymru. These will be worth collectively more than £7m to the area. 

Llandudno Conference Solutions is an online booking system set up by Venue Cymru in 2008 and, together with the Destination Management team, provides additional telephone and e-mail booking services plus bureau support to organisers. 

Along the coast in Colwyn Bay, Jason Thame, MD of Modus Sports Management, is one organiser who has used the new £6.5m stadium and conference centre, Parc Eirias, for an event. The town also boasts celebrity chef Bryn Williams, as an anchor tenant in the waterfront development.

University Challenge

Following the merger between the University of Glamorgan, and the University of Wales Newport in April 2013, a new brand: University of South Wales (USW) Conference Services was launched and has attracted new clients and large summer conferences.

“The Academy of Marketing held their event for 350-plus guests over four days, using our Event Management Service where we organised conference, accommodation and dinners at Cardiff venues, and dealt with all delegate registrations and payments,” says Gemma Savage, USW Conference Services Manager. “The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO Ltd) also held its four-day annual conference and supplier exhibition with us. The event was held at the compact Pontypridd campus.”

Regular clients include GlaxoSmithKline, Welsh Assembly Government, local health boards and housing associations, says Savage. “We also have clients who use our facilities to run professional courses such as PRINCE 2, CIPs, NEBOSH and MSP. A trend we are seeing at the moment is Masterclass sessions where consultants bring together a group of 10-12 local business owners on a monthly basis to discuss issues. Using the skillset around the table it enables business owners to find solutions to problems without facing high consultancy costs.

“We have also played host to a number of sporting events at our Sports Park, set in 30 acres, we can offer 11 pitches and a large indoor facility. In recent years we have welcomed the Commonwealth Archery Championships, Football Association of Wales’ National Conference and the annual URDD Gemau Cymru, to name a few.”

The campuses are currently reaping the benefits of a £130m development project which has provided 500 new en suite bedrooms, a new Student’s Union and a new lecture theatre seating 305 delegates. The dedicated year round Conference Centre based at Pontypridd will also be undergoing a refurbishment in early 2014.

“The main objective when attending an event is to learn, whether it’s a conference, seminar, training course or even a network event,” says Savage. “What better surroundings to do that than an academic environment. Gone are the days of old tatty lecture theatres with OHP’s, student expectations are particularly high, especially since the introduction of fees.”

The teaching spaces at USW venues are large (three separate auditoriums each seat between 800 – 1,200) and spacious. They are also equipped with the latest audiovisual equipment supported by in house technical teams. With Universities striving to receive high scores in the National Student Survey, USW is among those continuing to invest heavily in facilities in a competitive market.  

This was first published in the October issue of CN. Any comments? E-mail conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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