It’s not every day that you build a new international convention centre and it’s almost never that you do it in an up and coming country that previously only dreamed of hosting large scale global events. But in Autumn 2012, the Welsh Government announced it would support the development of an international convention centre for Wales and Celtic Manor Resort would be its location – ICC Wales was born and the rest is history. Or is it?
No, not at all. On the road to creating a world class purpose-built venue, many lessons are learned, and as ICC Wales prepares to welcome its first event in July 2019, Ian Edwards, CEO ICC Wales and Celtic Manor Resort shares what creating this amazing high-tech venue has taught him about attracting large events and how to secure the venue’s success long into the future. It’s gold dust every venue and DMO team should know and Ian sprinkles it generously.
dt: Given your experience of creating ICC Wales, if you could give only one piece of advice to other venues faced with the universal need of business growth, what would it be?
IE: It is essential, in the first instance, to be clear on your vision and brand. From our point of view, Wales has an opportunity not just to open a state-of-the-art facility, but to promote the country as a whole. We have created a blend of both rational and emotional appeal, combined with a compelling story about the destination, to win the hearts and minds of event organisers. As an emerging destination we offer the added allure of providing new experiences and new people to meet – other venues may find they have a similar proposition, or else, should find an alternative compelling characteristic.
dt: What other business-growth catalysts should venues and DMOs prioritise?
IE: We’ve found huge benefits in working with our local community – especially businesses, universities and government. Together you can create a stronger proposition – one seamless destination experience for event delegates and this is what the modern organiser wants. Make sure the local stakeholders know that business events bring visitor spending and other business to the area. Everyone needs to understand what the destination is trying to achieve and how they can play a part in making it happen as part of one enthusiastic team.
Flexibility and creativity are also key for today’s business event planners. Our research shows that cost and budget issues are the highest priorities for event organisers. They’re facing internal pressures to achieve multiple objectives from ever-finite budgets, if you can offer them a solution, they’ll welcome it. As part of our solution, we have developed package pricing incorporating many elements that add value at competitive rates.
To do this successfully, seek to understand each client’s objectives in detail and tailor packages that meet them. If you can, bring in other elements from across your area or destination as this will make a big difference as to whether or not your venue and destination is chosen from the enormous choice of options available.
dt: Are the advantages of being a new-build, ‘purpose-built’ venue such as ICC Wales, available to other venues?
IE: Being a purpose-built venue does give us a huge advantage. Our building has been designed solely to host events, whereas historic buildings or hotels for whom hosting events is an add-on and not core business, have not. However, any venue that is committed to events, can benefit by sharing our forward-thinking attitude and by taking a similar approach to what we did when we created ICC Wales. We focussed on two main elements – the facilities (the core product if you like) and the destination (for brand, marketing and “emotional appeal” purposes).
dt: What research did you do to support your decisions?
IE: On the build, ICC Wales sought international opinion to inform the nuts and bolts of the building and we built these elements – such as flexible space, car parking, lorry access, plenary space, cutting-edge kitchens – into the venue. Yes, we had the advantage of being new build so that we could do that, but I don’t see that as exclusive. Every venue has the ability and responsibility to ask its customers and the market at large, how the venue and destination can best serve them and then do their utmost to deliver upon those wishes.