INTRODUCING THE DELIGHTS OF WALES
As one of the smallest nations in the UK, Wales may not be top of the potential locations list for your next meeting, conference or event. In fact, in 2014, the value of events taking place in the region was £343.4m, just 1.59% of the £21.6 billion value for the UK as a whole.
However, Heledd Williams, new head of business events at Visit Wales, is on a mission to improve that figure and introduce more people to the delights of the nation she represents.
"At the moment people don’t yet know about Wales, and those that do haven’t truly found out about our amazing locations and options," she says. "This is actually a great starting point as it means we have so much opportunity to grow awareness and opportunity and demonstrate the options that are on offer.”
Williams wants to show the world that Wales is a 'great, viable option'. Compact and accessible – served by five international airports with transfer times of between 30 minutes and two hours – it is also home to globally-recognised businesses, eight universities, three UNESCO World Heritage sites and breath-taking scenery.
"Wales is great for incentives and associations, and we feel we have an offering to suit on both fronts. We’re so easily accessible from across the globe – even more so with the recently announced Qatar Airways flights from Cardiff Airport – and our landscape and venues provide a real mix of possibilities. We’d encourage anyone looking to stage an event, of all sizes, to come and see what we have to offer.”
Meeting and event spaces are spread across Wales' cities and towns with many just a 'stone's throw' from beautiful countryside or the coastline.
If a city-setting is your preference, the Welsh capital Cardiff is the place to head, where sports stadia, universities and hotels all provide meetings spaces of varying sizes.
For large conferences and exhibitions there is the Motorpoint Arena, allowing layouts for anywhere between 500 and 5,000 people, or banqueting and exhibitions for up to 1,000; while performing arts and conferencing centre St David's Hall, The Welsh Institute of Sport, All Nations Centre and SWALEC Stadium offer capacity for between 1,000 and 1,500 delegates.
Other convention centres across Wales include Newport Centre with capacity for 2,000 theatre-style, The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Parc y Scarlets Stadium in Llanelli, and modern purpose-built Venue Cymru in North Wales, which all have capacity for at least 1,000 delegates.
While Wales already offers plenty of options, all eyes are on new conference centre ICC Wales which is set to be a 'game-changer' when it opens in July 2019. The new-build venue, located within the grounds of the Celtic Manor Resort, is expected to be a catalyst for change and determination for other venues and destinations.
The 26,000sqm venue will accommodate 5,000 delegates and includes a 4,000sqm pillar-free main hall, a 1,500 seated auditorium, 12 flexible meeting rooms, a double-height glass atrium and a 2,500sqm outdoor plaza for outside events and teambuilding.
Ian Edwards, CEO of ICC Wales says, “Until now, Wales simply hasn’t had the capacity to accommodate large-scale global conferences and events for upwards of 5,000 delegates, but the ICC will compete with leading venues around the world and, crucially, for the first time will position Wales as a destination at the forefront of business tourism.
"The venue’s design and facilities are truly world class, and its location – adjacent to the M4 just over two hours from London and close to Newport’s main line train station as well as the international airports at Cardiff and Bristol – makes ICC Wales an accessible and attractive proposition for international and national association conferences, corporate conferences, political summits and exhibitions.”
WHERE TO STAY
Anyone considering a conference at the ICC Wales won't need to look far for a place to stay. The convention centre is within the grounds of the five-star, 332-bedroom Celtic Manor Resort, which boasts luxury accommodation alongside six restaurants, bars, a spa and golf courses.
There are also hotels to suit all budgets and requirements – from budget and mid-market options such as Premier Inn, Holiday Inn and Hampton by Hilton to Celtic Manor's own Coldra Court – located just five minutes from ICC Wales.
In Cardiff, the recently refurbished St David's Hotel & Spa with views over Cardiff Bay offers five-star accommodation, while the 122-bedroom Hotel Indigo with its rooftop Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill will appeal to those seeking a city-centre location.
Looking for a hotel that can cater for a conference and or gala dinner, as well as offer a bed for the night? Consider The Exchange Hotel Cardiff. The most iconic and historic building in Cardiff is a luxurious 200-suite Grade II listed building hotel which has undergone a multi-million pound renovation by Signature Living.
The hotel can accommodate 650 guests in theatre style, 420 for dinner and meetings of varying sizes.
Those wishing to stay somewhere quieter but not too far should consider The Vale Resort. This spa hotel is within a 30-minute drive of Cardiff and has just invested £500,000 in upgrading 140 of its 143 bedrooms as well as boasting two golf courses and Wales' largest spa.
Across Wales, expanding hotel group Giant Hospitality currently has six hotels – Caer Rhun Hall, The Llandudno Bay Hotel, Belmont Llandudno and The Queen’s Hotel in North Wales, with Fourcroft Hotel and Fishguard Bay Hotel in West Wales.
DRINKING AND DINING
As a producer of some world-class produce (think Welsh lamb, Caerphilly cheese and Halen Mon sea salt) it is hardly surprising that Wales is also home to many great restaurants and pubs.
If a busy day of meetings leaves you too tired to trawl the streets looking for somewhere to eat, rest assured you won't go hungry. Many Welsh hotels offer quality in-house restaurants, such as The Admiral St David at St David's Hotel in Cardiff or the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill at Hotel Indigo in the city.
For those looking to impress their dining companions, Wales boasts some of the UK's finest restaurants which are worth heading out of the city for.
Try chef James Sommerin's eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in Penarth, just outside Cardiff, for fine-dining, while Shaun Hill's more rustic inn The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny has been a foodie favourite for many years.
Those looking for an exciting view while dining should head to The Blondin Restaurant at Zip World Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda.
This recently opened restaurant with a menu devised by celebrity chef Bryn Williams has both indoor and outdoor terrace seating overlooking the fastest zip line in the world.
And if time is on your side and you are part of a larger group, why not combine a visit to Cardiff Castle with a cruise and cream tea. Cardiff Castle has launched a new bookable product combining a visit to Cardiff Castle, a river cruise and an indulgent cream tea at the iconic Norwegian Church. The package is available for groups of 20 or more at £30pp.
Drinkers will delight in knowing that Wales also boasts its own vineyards, breweries and distilleries.
Opening this summer is Aber Falls Distillery Visitor Centre, which will be the first whisky distillery in North Wales for 100 years. The Visitor Centre will offer distillery tours, masterclasses and lab experiences, as well as giving you the opportunity to sample and purchase from the range of premium quality spirits.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Welsh have their own language, although English is predominantly spoken. Just a small percentage of Welsh people can speak Welsh fluently, but many signs, including all street signs, are written in both English and Welsh.
The population of Wales is approximately three million and there are four times as many sheep as people.
If incentive travel is on your agenda, it may be worth noting that travel guide brand The Rough Guide has named Wales as one of the best places in the world to visit in 2018, ranking above Cuba, Russia, New Orleans and Chile.
Its description of Wales as “a magical landscape harbouring jagged peaks, theatrically sited castles, lush valleys and an epic coastline” means this nation has plenty of scope for all styles of experiences.
From a round of golf on a Ryder Cup golf course, or a visit to Zip World in North Wales where visitors can ride the world's fastest and longest zip wire in the world, through to a more sedate train ride through the Snowdonia National Park on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway, there is something for everyone.
Home to many luxury hotels with spas, fine-dining restaurants and extensive grounds, such as Llangoed Hall in the Wye Valley and the Retreats Group's Twr y Felin Art Hotel, Roch Castle Hotel and the 19th Century Penrhiw Hotel, Wales also offers some extra special experiences for businesses looking to really reward their teams.
"While we know that we cannot be all things to all people, we really believe in what Wales has to offer, and that we are a great fit to a wide range of events," says Williams of Visit Wales. "With the incredible natural landscape we can be a fantastic location for incentives, while our venues and stadia provide some really attractive options for associations, for example."
While Visit Wales is undertaking work to promote its existing event offering, Williams is keen to point out that the region is not done yet.
Eyes will be on the opening of ICC Wales next year, she says, but that's not all.
We’ll also have the Cardiff International Arena coming too, a £100m investment which will enhance the current strong retail and leisure offer in the city centre and Cardiff Bay, as well as the Principality Stadium for major sporting and concert events," she notes.
“The proposal is to begin build within the next two years and deliver a 16,000 Tier 1 seater arena with flexible space to accommodate and host a variety of events and meetings.
“Add to that the incredible Venue Cymru in Llandudno, and the Go North Wales Business Events Bureau which promotes the MICE locations and expertise in North Wales and, just for starters, we have a really exciting offering and so much more to talk about.”
HOW TO GET THERE?
Cardiff Airport is the only airport in Wales itself, but many other UK airports are within easy reach. Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and London Heathrow have transfer times of between 30 minutes and two hours to Wales. Cardiff Airport flights serve destinations in Europe and the Middle East, with the first direct Qatar Airways flight from Doha landing in Cardiff in May.
Trains from London leave London Paddington for Cardiff and Swansea and take between two and three hours. Trains also run between Cardiff from Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester.