Made in Wales

Hot on the heels of a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to welcome the largest gathering of international leaders the UK has ever hosted, Wales is looking to boost its events industry even further in the coming years, particularly with the potential development of not one, but two international convention centres.

Plans for the new convention centre at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport were approved by councillors in July this year and the new 20,000sqm Wales ICC will now go ahead over three floors on land next to Junction 24 of the M4. The planned development will deliver a main auditorium and an exhibition hall catering for up to 4,000 delegates, as well as a new 1,800-space multi-storey car park.

Ian Edwards, Chief Operating Officer at Celtic Manor, believes the NATO summit, which was hosted at the resort in September, can act as a springboard for the resort’s plans for its international convention centre and indeed for attracting major events to Wales.

“We are, of course, accustomed to staging major events,” he says, “but this was probably bigger than the Ryder Cup. We had 10 years to prepare for that, but less than a year to prepare for this hugely important event. To give you an idea of the scale of the operation, our Head of Event Management Leon Hughes (featured on page 55), would normally look after around 20 big conferences and events during a year. This year, he has been taken off all other events to concentrate solely on the NATO summit because of the level of detail required,” he says.

Edwards adds that the most important thing about hosting the summit was the opportunity it gave Celtic Manor, Newport  and Wales to be on the world stage and    show “they can pull together an event of this magnitude”.

“It’s no secret that we have ambitions here at Celtic Manor to build a new Wales International Convention Centre and we want the NATO summit to act as a springboard for securing more major events in Wales.”

The NATO Summit
With 60 world leaders including President Barack Obama in attendance, South Wales was subjected to the biggest security operation the area had ever seen. Although there were mutterings of discontent regarding road closures and ‘the ring of steel’ erected around Celtic Manor and Cardiff Castle, the event’s benefits far outweighed any negatives.

Lynne Richards, Tourism Officer at Newport City Council says the event secured millions of pounds for the local economy, not just from delegate spend but also the contracts and supply service needed in the area.

On the eve of the summit, the Ministry of Defence announced a £3.5bn contract for 589 armoured vehicles with General Dynamics in Oakdale, Caerphilly, which secured 1,300 jobs.

The Summit saw more than 150 heads of states and ministers, 10,000 support staff and 2,000 journalists in South East Wales, with over 24,000 rooms booked in 80 hotels in Newport, Cardiff, and Bristol across the two nights. In addition to this, Richards says the summit was a “great opportunity to showcase what the South East Wales region offers to a global audience”.

Showcasing the region is something Richards is particularly keen to push. Meet South East Wales, a partnership between the three local authorities of Newport, Monmouthshire and Torfaen, is aimed at generating additional business tourism spend within the region by encouraging industry professionals to find out more about what the region has to offer.

“Business tourism is an extremely important part of our economy, supporting thousands of jobs and we’d like to grow this significantly,” Richards tells CN. “Through increased awareness of our experience and credibility within the industry, we hope to drive more business events to the area.”

South East Wales
South East Wales offers more than 50 venues and hotels with capacity for 2,000 delegates.

St Pierre, a Marriott Hotel & Country Club, is able to accommodate 300 delegates in its 11 meeting rooms and two restaurants, and was recently used by manufacturing company Yankee Candle and the Welsh Football Trust to host their events.

Emma Huws from Yankee Candle says: “We hired St Pierre for our International Wholesale Meeting in January. We chose the venue for its location and the fact that the customer service is second to none. We had used the venue several times before as we were impressed with the space available and the facilities.”

Robin Crane, Director of Sales at St Pierre says the accessibility of South East Wales makes it easy for delegates from many cities to attend events. “The scenery is also a big factor as it offers organisers a chance to host events while enjoying stunning surroundings, offering a completely different type of conference to those held directly within city centres – we have the best of both worlds.”

With the new proposed Wales ICC in Newport, South East Wales’ stock is set to rise even further. “A larger Wales Convention Centre will only build on that success and address a market gap, supporting more jobs in the South East Wales area,” says Richards.

Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium has reported an increased trend in events since the club hit the big time in the Premier League. “Events business is strong with a large proportion being generated from government business including party conferences,” says Sales and Marketing Manager, Jessica Holland. “This increase has partly been driven by departments looking to move out of the traditional Cardiff area.”

Not content with just once ICC, plans to build a second convention centre in Cardiff have drawn a step closer following senior councillors agreeing to allow a procurement plan to be drawn up. According to Visit Wales, the council is keen to see a city centre international convention venue for 1,500 delegates as part of 12,000-seat indoor arena.

Wales’ capital city currently holds the European Capital of Sport for 2014 title, an accolade that recognises Cardiff as a major sporting destination. This year, Cardiff has hosted both national and international events including the Championships and Commonwealth Games Qualifiers, Six National Rugby, Heineken and Amlin Cup Finals, Power Boat Championships and UEFA Supercup Final. Sporting venues for events include the Millennium Stadium, the national stadium of Wales; Cardiff City Stadium and the 16,000 capacity SWALEC cricket stadium.

The £121m Millennium Stadium is Europe’s largest retractable roof arena with capacity for 72,500 spectators. Event spaces include a pitch-facing lounge, 112 suites and five lounges, catering for up to 200 guests.

Comic Con
Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, offers 4,500sqm of exhibition space for up to 5,000 delegates, as well as 40 meeting areas.

The venue welcomed back Comic Con, the UK’s major Comic and Film Convention, hosting them twice this year, as well as hosting a new, first of its kind event for Wales, Divided We Fall, a Crossfit sporting event.

Organisers of the Posture & Mobility conference held at Motorpoint Arena made use of the venue’s acoustic drape in its main arena, creating a room within a room for a conference set up for up to 900 delegates. Outside of that was an area for catering and exhibition stands.

The city’s largest capacity hotel is the Hilton International. The 197-bedroom five-star hotel has capacity for 350 guests in its ballroom, while the Castle and Friary rooms can host 170.

North Wales
Venue Cymru in Llandudno, the largest purpose-built conference venue in North Wales, offers more than 20 specifically designed conference spaces from small meeting rooms to its new 1,550sqm arena with capacity for 2,500. The venue, which manages over 1,000 events each year, continues to target large events.

Meik Haselbach, Project Manager for the EU Ropes Course Association UK conference which was hosted at the venue last year says Venue Cymru was chosen due to its large exhibition space and multiple seminar rooms. 

Other event venues in Llandudno include the Imperial Hotel with five conference suites for 150 delegates; The Conwy Business Centre, which offers a purpose-built exhibition and conference hall with a capacity for up to 150; and the historic four-star St Georges Hotel, which has a 150-year history, including six British Prime Ministers staying at the hotel from Disraeli to Tony Blair. The hotel has undergone a £3.5m refurbishment programme and its business offering includes six meeting rooms catering for up to 250 delegates.

Mid Wales
Gregynog Hall, the University of Wales conference centre near Newton, Powys has reported an increase in commercial conferences in the past year with turnover at £1.2m. Karen Armstrong, Director at Gregynog, notes that this figure would be much larger if the venue didn’t offer subsidised rates for educational bookings.

Gregynog is set to become an independent charitable trust during 2015 and will launch a campaign for £5m in funding towards the restoration of the hall and 750-acre estate. Events at the venue have included the British Mycology Conference, a vintage car rally, outdoor performance of Sherlock Holmes, as well as hosting the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.

The Metropole in Lllandrindod Wells, a 120-bed hotel, recently completed a £1.2m investment to add a new conference suite and to overhaul the existing restaurant. The new suite can accommodate 200 delegates and can be divided into three smaller rooms.

Wild in Wales

With social programmes an increasingly prominent part of conferences, Wales has much to offer in this regard. Pembrokeshire, located on the South West coast, is surrounded by sandy beaches and miles of coastal path making it ideal for teambuilding.

“Pembrokeshire has much to offer the conference market,” says Chief Executive of Conference Pembrokeshire, Maudie Hughes. “From teambuilding activities such as coast path walks, coasteering and climbing, or taking part in a conference in the surroundings of a beachside hotel, the ability to get away from the office and into a totally different environment can make a real difference to participant involvement and response.”

TYF Group delivers a range of programmes for businesses in both the public and private sector, from experiences such as Super Sense  (a programme that helps people shift the way their receive, process and value information on which they make decisions) to classic teambuilding.

Jeff Loo, Director at the Thompson Corporation, Reed Elsevier, T&F Informa and The Guardian, has used TYF as part of building the foundations in global transforming programmes. “The bespoke experiential courses from TYF have helped deliver a new set of skills to implement and develop a new open and exclusive culture where creativeness and risk taking are essential in the change management process. The results over two decades have been astonishing,” he says.

Rather than take our word for it, why not follow the advice of President Barack Obama, who was asked about the venue at the NATO reception, and replied: “Extraordinary beauty, wonderful people, and great hospitality. I would encourage everybody from the States to come and visit Wales”.  

gets the lowdown on the NATO Summit from Leon Hughes

What was your main responsibility during the event?
Overseeing the project management of the summit and ensuring clear communication between the client and resort team.

What was the greatest challenge you had to overcome?
Getting answers to things – we had to wait for the escalation of authorisation all the way up to Number 10 and all the way back down again. The speed at which decisions were being turned around was the most challenging, but understandable given the importance of the event and the guests.

Did you have any technical difficulties?
No power cuts thankfully. We put so much resilience in place that if there had been, we would have been okay. We had power generators next door to all our stations, so if the power had gone we would have used generators. Escalators were put under a lot of pressure shall we say. They were working to speed through the summit, so that was the only technical difficulty that we faced.

Apart from the Welsh Cakes, did you leave any other in-room surprises?
In conjunction with Clogau Gold we gifted all the leaders, the men with some bespoke designed cufflinks with our Welsh dragon logo, and for the ladies, a pendant. We also had hessian gift bags which were used to gift to the ministers.

Any special requests?
Steak and chips at 1am in the morning, but that was about it. A few bits of gym equipment delivered to the bedrooms – not too bad, they were a sensible bunch. They didn’t have much chance to enjoy themselves.

Are there any key stats?

We served 34,260 meals, across media catering, bedrooms, and delegate catering.

What have you learnt from hosting such a major event?

To nail one thing, it’s team work really. Everyone has to pull together and buy in to an event on this scale for it to really work.

This was first published in the October issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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