Opportunity is a word that gets a lot of use during any conversation with Ian Edwards.
The chief executive of the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport is also the man in charge of the international convention centre being built on the resort’s just off the M4’s Coldra junction.
ICC Wales is a joint venture between the Welsh Government and the Celtic Manor and will put Wales and Newport firmly on the map in a lucrative market.
The state-of-the-art building, which can host up to 5,000 delegates and is aiming to hit the ground running when it opens a year from now.
“July 1 next year is our first event and we are bidding for a really high-profile event on July 8 that I can’t go into details about now.
“But if we can pull that over the line it’ll be a massive win for ICC Wales and for Newport.”
Mr Edwards is adamant that ICC Wales is an opportunity for the local economy as a whole, not just the Celtic Manor.
“When we started the joint venture, we were passionate about the impact it would have on the local economy.
“We make sure we use local businesses and suppliers wherever possible, whether that be for food, drink or construction.
“To date we have awarded contracts worth £22 million to local businesses in Wales.
“We estimated at the start of the project that it would put £50 million into the local economy during the construction phase.
“Given the value of the contracts awarded so far and the fact we have between 250 and 300 contractors – almost all of them local – on site at any given time then I’m sure we’ll exceed that £50 million estimate.
“The conference business is worth about £22 billion to the UK economy. Wales’ share of that now is about 1.5% purely because we don’t have the facility or the infrastructure.
“ICC Wales will allow us into that market. People are itching to bring their events to Wales.
“It also opens the associations market to us. These are events that attract upwards of 1,000 people. They are usually for two or three-night stays and delegates usually bring their spouses with them.
“While the delegate is in the conference, the spouse is out exploring the country they are in.
“When clients choose venues, they are choosing a destination. That means we are selling Wales and Newport to these associations.
“We have to get it right from the start and deliver what our clients want. We will be producing the best of the best in terms of conference centres; a state-of-the-art building.
“But the opportunity is not just for the Celtic Manor. We run at about 90% occupancy, so we don’t have more space to give. It’s up to others to take advantage of the demand ICC Wales will generate for hotel space.
“We already have £10 million of business confirmed for ICC Wales. The impact of that on the local economy is huge.
“The visitor economy – for both leisure and business – is huge and it is underplayed a lot of the time.
“ICC Wales will be hosting game-changing events that will really put Wales on the map.
“Leisure guests enjoy their time in Wales, whether they are on coastal walks or other activities, but business tourists spend three times as much in the local economy.
“They spend money on taxis, restaurants and bars but they also come back if they are impressed. About 60% of all business tourists come back as a leisure guest.
“That’s why we have to get it right. The knock-on effect is huge.”
The removal of the Severn Crossing tolls is described as a game changer for Wales by Mr Edwards.
“The tolls have been a massive mental block for people coming in to Wales.
“The knowledge that the tolls are going means clients are coming to us saying they haven’t looked at Wales as a destination before, but now they are.
“It’s also a huge positive for businesses like haulage companies and for inward investment as a whole.”
While the end of the tolls is welcome, Mr Edwards is scathing in his criticism of plans for a tourism tax in Wales.
Tourism is one of four potential new taxes being considered by the Welsh Government and would involve a small per night charge for visitors staying in accommodation.
“I’m passionate about this tax not being introduced. We are behind the other major cities in the UK in terms of business tourism.
“The last thing we want to be is the first destination in the UK that says we’re going to start charging you extra to come and stay in our amazing country.
“Let London or Edinburgh or Liverpool do it. Let’s not be the first.
“We’ve done so well getting rid of the bridge tolls; let’s not put another tax in the way.”
Mr Edwards worked in Glasgow in the 1990s when it reinvented itself as a leisure destination beneath the banner of ‘Smiles Better’. He has seen the way in which a city can transform itself if everyone embraces the concept.
“When a guest gets in a cab from the station, they need to be properly welcomed to Newport and be asked about why they’re here and what plans they have.”
“The whole city got behind the transformation of Glasgow and that’s what has to happen in Newport.
“We all know Newport has its negatives, but we have to all be prepared to shout about the positive aspects of the city – and there are plenty of them.”
ICC Wales employs a team of people purely to engage with local businesses, particularly hotels and others like Tiny Rebel, to ensure the surrounding economy benefits fully from the opening of the convention centre.
“We have to be promoting the amazing things we can offer as a city, not least our incredible location as the gateway to Wales.
“Newport has to be best in class; the best accommodation, the best restaurants, the best bars and we have to make out city a place that people want to go to after dark.
“Conferences tend to last from 8am to 6pm and after that delegates want to go and explore the city.
“We have to make Newport clean and welcoming and safe. Let’s offer these delegates discounts in restaurants and bars so they don’t go to Cardiff or Bristol. Let’s put the flags out in the railway station and in the city centre to really welcome these people.”
For more information about ICC Wales, visit www.iccwales.com