How does the Principality stack up as a conference and meetings destination, and what’s in store?
Wales’ progress as a sustainable destination for conferences, meetings, and events has been accelerated in recent years. With familiar landmarks such as the Principality Stadium hosting high profile rugby and football matches – top among which was the most recent UEFA Champions League Final – and the new International Convention Centre (ICC) Wales now under construction, the country is not being coy in its aspirations.
So what are the pros and cons, and what’s on offer?
Emma Jones, senior venue consultant at full service agency drp, says, “Wales may not be the first location that comes to mind when choosing an events destination, however, there is plenty to do and see. We recently hosted a conference at the Park Plaza Cardiff, and it was extremely successful.
“Additionally, we are currently producing 12 road shows for one of our clients, and Wales is one of the destinations. It can truly accommodate different styles of conferences and meetings.
“We don’t struggle with availability or price in comparison to London venues too, which is of course a continuously popular city to host an event. Wales has a unique charm though, and it is alternative to the rest of UK, with some intriguing tourist attractions to keep your delegates interested.”
Cardiff’s success in hosting the UEFA Champions League Final in May 2017 was hailed as a Welsh success story on the world events stage by Ian Edwards, CEO at the ICC Wales and Celtic Manor Resort.
Edwards said recently: “Following the hosting of the 2014 NATO Summit and the 2010 Ryder Cup, the UEFA Champions League Final in Cardiff yet again underlined the ability of South Wales to host major international events. We might be the smallest nation to stage the final so far, but the combination of logistical expertise and Welsh passion for sport made this the most memorable of occasions for fans both in Cardiff and watching all around the world.”
The Celtic Manor Resort in July launched its Hotel and Hospitality Apprenticeship Programme as the venue seeks to train the next generation of hospitality professionals.
Apprentices will be given access to a range of development courses with subject matter including personal development, teamwork, guest relations, presentation and interview skills.
Economy and infrastructure secretary Ken Skates believes that Wales continues to “punch well above its weight when it comes to hosting major events”.
When it opens in 2019, the ICC Wales, an £83.7m joint venture with the Celtic Manor Resort, will for the first time bring the region into genuine competition for large conference and events with its English, Scottish and Northern Irish peers.
Indeed, the Welsh economy is predicted to benefit from £70m each year as a result of the new venue.
Construction will bring an estimated 250-300 jobs into the region during its building phase. Once finished, the venue will provide around 150 permanent operational jobs. Many more additional Welsh jobs are likely to be created as a result of the supply chain required for ICC Wales through catering, maintenance, event management and transport.
The venue is also expected to generate estimated additional accommodation requirements of up to 100,000 bedroom nights per annum, with the prospect of further hotel developments in Wales, a further source of job creation and economic benefit.
The proximity of the venue to Cardiff, Swansea and the Welsh countryside will also see the further spreading of benefits across the country.
Of course, it’s not all large-scale convention centres and sports stadiums. There are many hotels across Wales that offer conference and meetings space. One such venue is the St Davids Hotel, Cardiff, part of the Principal Hotel Company.
The hotel boasts eight versatile conference and event spaces that can accommodate up to 270 guests. Many of the rooms overlook the hotel’s waterfront location on Cardiff Bay and features private outdoor areas. All spaces have a dedicated in-house AV support team and free superfast Wi-Fi, with a bandwidth of 1GB throughout the hotel.
“We don’t struggle with availability or price in the same way as we may in London”
Guests can also enjoy locally sourced produce in the hotel’s restaurant, which will be revealing its new concept and refurbishment in Autumn 2017, as well as, experience the award-winning Marine Spa, during their stay.
Nicola Edmunds, director of revenue and sales at The St David’s Hotel says: “Since business events are one of our core markets, we continue to invest into our M&E offering, making sure that our facilities are of the highest standards to appeal to conference bookers.
“With the Severn Crossing tolls being removed in 2018 and Flybe’s announcement of new Cardiff to London City flights, Wales’ up and coming position within the business events travel market is gaining important exposure and becoming an exciting area for events.”
Sitting on the north coast of the country in Llandudno is Venue Cymru, a multi-purpose events venue with a handsome conference set up.
Located on the seafront at the top of a stony beach, the venue measures more than 7,000sqm of exhibition and conference space with banqueting options available for up to 1,000 people. Its location just off the North Wales Expressway means Manchester is just two hours away.
Ben Gray, MD, CYE Group points to figures that highlight Wales’ growing popularity with event bookers. He says, “Data from our chooseyourvenues.com shows Wales is increasing in popularity as an event destination. Using North Wales’ largest town as a source, Wrexham, our search information reveals event planners in the town are busy looking for venues. In the period May-July 2017, visitor search sessions were up 198% in 2017 when compared to the same period in 2016. Similarly, during the same period, searches for event venues in Wrexham grew by 53%.
“Venue Cymru and The Royal Victoria Snowdonia have seen enquiry levels in 2017 grow by 71%, year to date, when compared with 2016.”