England and Scotland have many long-established convention centres, but finding a suitable home for an international convention centre in Wales has long been problematic. That was until Celtic Manor offered to go fifty-fifty with the Welsh government on a £83m venue that promises to change everything. ICC Wales CEO Ian Edwards explains all...This was never about filling rooms at Celtic Manor
. Celtic Manor runs at 90 per cent occupancy in its own right. This was about doing something that would be a game-changer for Wales.
We were very conscious that if we are going to build something and have a partner like Welsh government we really needed to get it right and be building what the client wanted.
So we went out to focus groups, which consisted of the association market, corporates who organise major events, production houses, and agents, and asked them to tell us what really makes a difference, which venues have got it right, which venues have got it wrong.
We said, ‘look we’ve got a blank piece of paper, tell us what you want us to build and we will build it. We then sat a round a table and said, ‘how do we make this happen?’
Obviously we had a budget, so there was some value engineering, but none of that affected what the focus groups told we should build. We have remained true to what the clients wanted.
Where venues have got it wrong previously is that they have these vast plenary rooms that can accommodate the numbers, but then when it comes to parallel sessions, the parallel rooms aren’t big enough to accommodate the vast numbers, so our breakout room, Meeting Room 1, can take 1,000 people, for example. Meeting Rooms 2 and 3 can take up to 650 people for breakout sessions, so the meeting rooms that are used for parallel sessions are massive rooms in their own right.
Natural daylight was another issue the focus groups mentioned. Everywhere you go here you’ve got daylight from one end of the building to the other. The main meeting rooms are all floor to ceiling windows looking out onto ancient woodland, so there is a real feeling of tranquility.
Something else they said, particularly about the association market, was that these people might only meet once a year, so networking space, places to have a coffee and a chat, is really important. So all our public areas are wide and vast so the ability to have a coffee with a colleague.
There was no soft opening. The builders took us right up to the last hour and then said, there you go, over to you. That would have been a challenge for a standalone convention centre but because the team that managers Celtic Manor is the same as this, in terms of the culinary director, the convention manager, and the support team, we could make it work without too many issues.
Economic impact isn’t just about that event, that day, that week. Generally, if you come to a conference you’re likely to be fairly senior and perhaps have decision-making roles. And if someone sees how easy it is to get here or thinks ‘what a great area to invest in a start-up’ then that’s the kind of lasting benefit we’re really hoping to achieve.
Ian Edwards was talking to James Lancaster
AMI editor James
Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international
association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation
for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk,
read, listen to music, and drink beer.