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The start of 2009 has brought with it many new developments for Wales’ corporate market. Business tourism figures in the country are continuing to rise, and many more conference organisers are choosing to hold their events here thanks to its diversity of venues and value for money.
Latest figures released by Visit Wales showed that more than 1,000,000 overnight business trips were held in Wales in 2007. More than 190,000 of those visiting were international visitors with the rest coming from domestic shores1.
Value for money
Eirlys Thomas, head of marketing networks at Visit Wales, said: “The current economic climate is affecting all industries. Companies still need to meet and talk but are looking at ways to make their budgets stretch as far as possible without compromising on quality.
“Holding your conference in Wales has added benefits. Conference organisers do not need to be concerned with budgeting in exchange rate commissions and travel times can be shorter and more reasonably priced than the overseas equivalent.
“Wales offers such competitive rates and diversity of product that the conference organiser’s pounds stretch even further without compromising on quality.
“It is not just about offering affordable prices – although Wales is extremely competitive. It’s about our venues being more flexible. These additional benefits make all the difference to event organisers.”
Sport is always on the menu for Wales, and 2009 is no different. Over the next year the nation will push forward as a leading destination for sport with a variety of new venues and sporting events adding to the diverse options already available for corporate clients.
Cardiff’s skyline will be changing once again with the addition of Cardiff City FC’s new £30 million stadium. The Bluebirds new stadium will also be home to the Cardiff Blues rugby team and, after the Millennium Stadium, it will be the second largest stadium in Cardiff and in Wales. The 26,500 seated stadium is likely to be completed between May and August 2009 ready for the 2009-10 season.
It will have two main conference and dining areas in the Premier Club. The restaurant will accommodate up to 700 delegates and the lounge bar area will accommodate up to 1,700 delegates. In addition, the stadium will have 14 boxes some of which may be used as smaller meeting areas or breakout rooms.
High profile events
The coming year will also see a number of prestigious sporting events knocking on the door.
July will see the nation’s capital host the first npower Ashes test match at the SWALEC Stadium for the first time.
The SWALEC Stadium has recently undergone a £9.5 million redevelopment, creating a 16,000 capacity stadium including state-of-the-art conferencing and banqueting facilities. Throughout the venue, over 2,000 guests and delegates can be accommodated for con ferencing and banqueting and match day hospitality, with capacities ranging from 10-800 delegates.
Following on, 2010 will see Wales host the world’s third most watched sporting event, the Ryder Cup. The 38th Ryder Cup will be held 1-3 October 2010, at The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, south east Wales.
The 2010 Ryder Cup will be the largest sporting event that Wales will hold and it has meant the development of The Twenty Ten Ryder Cup Course, at the Celtic Manor Resort. The new course, including nine new holes and a new clubhouse, is available for corporate events, and hospitality packages have already been released for the tournament.
Eirlys Thomas continued: “Wales is a sporting nation and proud of it. We now have a range of venues with a sporting theme and these latest contributions only enrich the variety of venues on offer to the corporate market.
“It is fantastic that one of the 2009 Ashes test matches will be played in Wales. This along with the 2010 Ryder Cup, really puts Wales on the map as a leading sporting nation with the latest facilities on offer, meaning that delegates can go to world class events on their doorstep without having to travel halfway around the world.”
Cardiff is not the only Welsh city to benefit from a new sporting venue. Further west, Llanelli will be home to the first racetrack to be built in the UK in the last 80 years.
Ffos Las racecourse has completed a two-year build and will open its doors to the corporate market in June.
The £20m, 600 acre racecourse comprises a one and a half mile National Hunt and flat race-track with grandstand. In addition, it offers hospitality accommodation for up to 500 delegates and state of the art training facilities for horse and jockey.
The green agenda
It’s not just about sport. Wales is also setting its sights on sustainable corporate venues. Corporate social responsibility is playing a big part in many companies’ work ethic and corporate clients are looking for venues that are environmentally aware and which demonstratively care about their carbon footprint.
The well-established eco-centre, the Centre for Alternative Techonolgy (CAT), in Machynlleth, will open the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE) this year. The new centre will offer delegates wider opportunities and improved facilities, including a 200 seat theatre, 24 en-suite twin bedrooms, three workshops, three seminar rooms, and a restaurant and bar.
The new centre will give delegates the opportunity to explore, in practical terms, the complex interactions between land-use, energy, food production, buildings, transport and waste management.
Another major sustainable development new to Wales is Bluestone Village, in Pembrokeshire. The village, which cost more than £110 million to complete, is the first of its kind in Wales and recently unveiled its corporate packages to the market. It offers delegates the chance to combine meetings with team building and incentive activities in a relaxing environment.
Situated in 500 acres of Pembrokeshire countryside, Bluestone aims to become one of the UK’s most-loved corporate destinations.
Sustainability is central to Bluestone’s ethos. All buildings are built from sustainable material and have been designed to maximise energy efficiency. Energy for the Blue Lagoon, pool complex, and Landsker Sports Club comes from an on-site Biomass plant, water in 100 of the lodges is solar-heated, insulation in the roof is made from recycled newspapers, water filters for the Blue Lagoon are energy efficient and permit a reduced use of chlorine, the resort uses local produce to keep food miles down. Bluestone makes every effort to preserve the local flora, fauna and wildlife and works closely with the South and West Wales Wildlife Trust.
Bluestone re-imagines the holiday village concept. It has 186 lodges set around a newly-built but traditionally-designed Celtic village and corporate customers can enjoy the benefit of exclusive hire and tailored packages as well as a host of activities including, coasteering, dolphin watching, surfing, and pony trekking as well as a relax in its holistic spa where 15 treatment rooms offer a full range of body and skin therapies.
What’s new in Wales?
The past year has seen a number of new developments in Wales, offering even greater diversity of venue options to the corporate market.
Newton House, Dinefwr Park and Castle in Carmarthenshire, Wales, opened its doors to the corporate market for the first time last summer.
The 17th Century National Trust House, located on the outskirts of Llandelio, with views over the Black Mountains, now hosts conferences, meetings and exhibitions for the first time in its 400-year history.
Two of its 24 rooms will be hired out to businesses looking for a slice of history as part of the corporate offering that they provide to delegates. The 500 sq ft dining room can accommodate 80 delegates theatre-style, while the 672 sq ft billiard room can seat up to 50 delegates for evening dinners.
Moving back to the capital, Cardiff Castle, with its history dating back nearly 2,000 years, has launched its £5 million Interpretation Centre. Open to visitors during the day, this building offers panoramic views of the site for evening dinners of up to 70 guests, including a roof-top terrace perfect for serving pre-dinner drinks on a summer’s night.
Also in Cardiff is the Park Plaza Hotel, which was named as the UK’s top Conference Hotel in the national Venue Verdict Awards. Venue Verdict is BDRC’s proprietary customer feedback and performance benchmarking system for the meetings industry. Launched in April 2006, it now includes almost 250 venues.
Meanwhile, Preseli Venture an activity centre based in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, has recently undergone a refurbishment programme, which has created a five star rated eco lodge, the first activity centre in west Wales to gain this rating. It has created new facilities including a new bar, dining room and lounges outside courtyard with views down the valley to sea, new showers and toilets, four new double rooms and a new drying room
Accessibility is a key consideration when conference organisers decide where to host their event.
Cardiff International Airport is 12 miles from the city centre and bmi baby flies nationally to Edinburgh, Belfast, Glasgow and Jersey and internationally to Amsterdam, Faro, Geneva, and Prague, Toulouse, Palma, Alicante and Malaga. This is in addition to the major international connections that are available via Amsterdam.
North Wales is well served by Manchester Airport North Wales bringing in the transatlantic market of Washington and Chicago, while Mid Wales is well served by Birmingham Airport.
London is just two hours away from Cardiff by train and three hours by road, while five services operate across the Irish Sea, connecting Wales to Ireland.
The business tourism desk of Visit Wales helps event organisers get the most out of Wales by offering free and impartial advice. In addition, there is a wide range of resources available to help organisers in planning an event in Wales including a conference planner and incentive guide.
1 International Passenger Survey and United Kingdom Tourism Survey