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A new beginning

A new beginning

Cameron Roberts talks to Danielle Bounds of ICC Wales to uncover how the venue is impacting its local area and redefining itself to the industry.

In an industry that prides itself on the depth of its value chain, venues can often be the locus for economic progress in local areas. By bringing events to a city, businesses in the area see a boost in visitors and a more varied customer base.

The ICC Wales opened in 2019. Based in Newport, the venue aimed to bring the community from the surrounding area onboard into creating a valuable experience for visitors. It also drew on thought-leadership from within the industry to create a ‘future-proof’ venue.

Danielle Bounds, sales director, ICC Wales spoke about the venue’s turbulent start to life and how it is helping the local area by bringing innovative events to Wales.

Opening up

As a relatively new venue, ICC Wales has yet to carve out a core list of staple events, combined with the pandemic impacting the first 18 months of its existence makes for a turbulent start for life.

Bounds said: “We opened in September 2019, but unfortunately then closed in March 2020, so
we didn’t really get a huge run establishing what our kind of core business was. But looking at the calendar moving forward, we’ve got a wide variety of events including national and international associations, we’ve got corporate conferences, awards, dinners, sporting events, concerts,
there’s a real varied mix.”

With new events on the horizon, there are new client demands and requirements. Bounds details how the venue “must now provide a much longer timeline for non-contract returns,” and that “there are a lot more processes and points to move before we even get that contract back and a huge amount of T&C amends.”

Opening a venue on the eve of the pandemic may not have been the ideal situation, but
ICC Wales is launching a campaign set to reintroduce the venue to the conference industry. The campaign, dubbed ReImagine, ReEngage, ReConnect, aims to engage the industry and bring people to Newport.

“We wanted to create a campaign that gave us the opportunity to breathe new life into conference meetings and events. ICC Wales was only open for six months before Covid-19, effectively, for us, it’s a relaunch as we are still having people ask whether we even open. People say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, that’s not the case for us,” says Bounds.

Area of effect

Being invested in by the Welsh Government puts a certain amount of pressure on ICC Wales, the venue not only has to bring in events, but ensure thatthe surrounding area of Newport can benefit from the increased footfall from visitors.

For Bounds and the team this meant getting in contact with local businesses and focusing on education, she says: “We’re the first venue of this size in Wales and the south west, so we had to get it right. That involved reaching out to local hoteliers and making sure that they recognise the impact and the importance of the visitor economy and that if somebody attends from a business perspective, they’re more likely to attend as a leisure guest. We had to do a lot of education because we’ve got everything in this area from a small guest house for 12 people right up
to branded hotels for 200.”

More than just the standard fare of venues, restaurants etc, the venue dug down to the granular level, going so far as to give local taxi drivers a tour of ICC Wales to make visitors’ first point of contact a positive one.

“We brought many of them [taxi drivers] into the venue when we first opened, our chief executive hosted a breakfast session with them, and talked about what we wanted to achieve. We were very conscious that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. The first person they see, normally when they get off a train is a taxi driver, if they don’t have the best reception it’s all downhill from there.”

Future proof

What’s next for a venue like ICC Wales? It’s still in its relative infancy in terms of actual open time, but the venue itself is looking to the future, in both its infrastructure and the way it hosts events.

Being a new venue has its advantages for ICC Wales, it was able to survey members of the industry to influence its design, Bounds said: “The feedback we got was things like a pillarless base, to create a flexible space, so clients don’t have to contract additional space unnecessarily, the room and that concept is much more cost effective for them. Of course, given that now there’s hybrid in the mix, we had to have a really secure kind of internet connection and Wi-Fi capability.” Bounds closed out by talking about what’s next for events in general, she said: “I think it’s inclusivity. That goes across so many levels, it’s not just diversity and inclusion, it’s making people included in an event, whether they want to attend in person, hybrid, only attend certain sessions and how you can make things relevant for them. It’s how you can basically cater for every single person at an event and make sure that they’re engaged at the time.

“I think if you do get people here, you have to be really conscious of their wellbeing while they’re here. It’s things like allowing them some space to go and get some fresh air to have a mindfulness session, if they wanted to have a quiet room give them a space where they don’t have to sit on the floor and plug in. Make it work for them so that they’re not stressed, that they’re balanced.”