Event Guide: Wales - The one to watch

Abigail Wills reports on Visit Wales's plans to improve Cardiff's international reputation in the associations sector and shine a spotlight on smaller towns.

In February this year Visit Wales appointed Jane Landstrom as association and corporate sales executive. Landstrom's remit is to boost Wales's overall events business but she has made the association market her priority. "We are aware it's a market that can be very lucrative," she says. "Our peers in the rest of the UK have very well established association programmes and we feel that it is a great new opportunity for us."

Each year the International Congress and Conventions Association (ICCA) issues a report ranking the UK's destinations based on the number of international association events hosted and Landstrom is keen to improve Wales's position. "The only city registered for Wales is Cardiff and we're quite low down (86th) at the moment, so we need to improve that. It's not because we haven't had the business here, it's just that it hasn't been registered. So we need to increase our ranking and hope people look at it and realise that Cardiff is the place to go," she says.

Cardiff Castle is currently undergoing a £7m restoration of its event spaces - the banqueting hall, library and drawing room - and is adding a new area with gallery space and a rooftop terrace, due to open next March. Preparations continue apace at Celtic Manor, which will host the Ryder Cup in 2010. The resort property can accommodate up to 1,500 delegates and offers 330 bedrooms. The Wales Millennium Centre in the city can also hold up to 1,900 in its Donald Gordon Theatre.

While Cardiff claims the lion's share of association business, Landstrom is keen not to overlook smaller towns. Swansea offers the National Waterfront Museum for up to 2,000 guests and its university has meeting facilities. "Our aim is to market Wales on a national level. People's venue choice will be dictated by their group size and while Cardiff may get a large slice of the business, that's not to say that we won't attract smaller events to the likes of Aberystwyth and Bangor too," she says.

But Llandudno, in North Wales, is Visit Wales's next target in terms of boosting the principality's ICCA rankings. "While we would love places like Swansea and Newport to feature, in reality they are hampered in the association market by the lack of large venues," concedes Landstrom.

Llandudno's success as an events destination is largely due to the facilities at Venue Cymru. Narcotics Anonymous held its 24th European convention there in August and among the confirmed bookings for 2008 is a British Blood Transfusion Society event planned for September.

The venue completed an £11m redevelopment last year that saw the addition of 1,500sqm of exhibition space and a further 11 meeting rooms. Adrian La Trobe, conference and events manager at Venue Cymru, says: "Prior to the redevelopment we did have a 700sqm flat floor exhibition area, but we tended to find that, although we had a theatre capable of seating 1,500 delegates, we were running out of support, banqueting and exhibition space."

La Trobe believes that North Wales is an easy sell, with Liverpool and Manchester airports both just over an hour away, and estimates that this financial year Venue Cymru will host 850-900 separate events. "At least half of these will come from the association market and voluntary sector and the major events will generate in the region of £10m for the local economy," he adds.

VISIT WALES'S AIMS

To improve Cardiff's ICCA ranking, which is currently 86th.

- To develop a new pan-Wales Ambassador programme with the aim of recruiting Welsh professionals who are members of international associations.

- To work closely with other departments within the Welsh Assembly Government, such as International Business Wales, to target specific industry sectors like Aerospace and Bio-Science.

- To work to secure the 2011 meeting of football body UEFA. The congress has previously been held in Zurich, Budapest and Croatia.

- To target European and International Associations and promote the country's improved road and air access.

CASE STUDY

In 2005 the annual meeting of the International College of Dentists took place in Genoa, Italy, and in 2008 it will visit Athens but this year's President, Professor Phillip Dowell, took the decision to host the 52nd meeting in his homeland of Wales. More than 230 fellows and their partners attended the event, which was held in Cardiff from 27 to 30 June.

"Around 21 different countries were represented and most, if not all, of the delegates had been to London many times but hardly any had been to Wales. Cardiff is a wonderful city - very vibrant and cosmopolitan - and I wanted to show them that. It was an obvious choice as far as I'm concerned," Professor Dowell explains.

Working with Visit Wales to put together a programme, Dowell opted to host the scientific programme and accommodate guests at the Hilton Hotel. The city centre location made venues such as Cardiff Castle and the National Museum of Wales, which hosted a dinner on the final night, accessible by foot. Delegates also enjoyed a golf day at the Celtic Manor Resort and dinner at St David's Hotel.


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