Iconic sporting venues and historic attractions are putting Cardiff on the map as an events destination. Richard Rees and Rob Gill report
Sporting events probably come to mind when you think of the Welsh capital Cardiff – particularly in the spring when rugby fever grips the city.
The Principality Stadium, where Wales’ rugby union team plays home games, is perhaps the city’s most well-known venue. Rugby is more of a religion than a sport in Cardiff, and fans pretty much take over the city on the weekend of a Six Nations clash.
The stadium also hosted last season’s UEFA Champions League football final between Real Madrid and Juventus when around 170,000 fans flocked to Cardiff for Europe’s biggest club game.
The 74,500-capacity ground, originally known as the Millennium Stadium, will also be in the headlines on 31 March when it hosts the heavyweight boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and New Zealand’s Joseph Parker. Another major sporting event visiting Cardiff this year will be the Volvo Ocean Race offshore sailing race in May and June.
Providing the venues for these high-profile international events helps to give Cardiff the kind of publicity that other UK locations can only dream of. The city already welcomes 20 million visitors annually, who spend some £1 billion.
Cardiff’s sporting venues also provide a range of spaces for meetings, conferences and events. The Principality Stadium, for example, has an indoor arena, six lounges and 113 hospitality suites, while smaller sporting venues, such as Cardiff City Football Club’s stadium and SSE SWALEC cricket ground, also host conferences.
Historic options include Cardiff Castle, where event spaces include an historic banqueting hall that seats up to 100 guests. The castle has also launched a range of corporate team-building packages under the Castle Quest brand. Meanwhile, concert venue St David’s Hall can cater for conferences of up to 1,500 delegates.
Culture and science
One of the biggest draws for MICE planners is the regenerated Cardiff Bay area, with venues including the Wales Millennium Centre, home to the National Orchestra of Wales and Welsh National Opera. With its vast metal, wood, glass and slate facade, the Millennium Centre is a striking symbol of the area’s regeneration and neighbour to another Cardiff landmark, the 19th century Pierhead Building, now hosting conferences and exhibitions as well.
Rob Holt, director of tourism development and major events for the Welsh government, says: “Cardiff is less than two hours by train from London and has direct access to more than 50 European destinations through Cardiff airport.
“The city is one of the most competitive locations in the UK for skilled service sector businesses, and boasts a strong proposition in life sciences as host of Bio Wales, one of the largest life sciences conferences in the UK. The region is also important for technology, leading the way in cyber security with the University of South Wales, the only UK university with GCHQ accreditation for computer forensics.”
On the hotel front, there are almost 5,500 rooms in Cardiff across a variety of price ranges, with many properties also offering meeting space. Hotel Indigo opened last year in central Cardiff, adding 122 rooms and a rooftop restaurant by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White.
The South Wales region’s attractions as a MICE destination are set to be further enhanced when a new £83 million conference centre, ICC Wales, opens at the Celtic Manor resort near Newport, in summer 2019. This custom-built venue will have 26,000 sqm of floorspace and the ability to cater for up to 5,000 delegates.
“Wales’ epic landscapes, paired with unique activities, provides a versatile offering to suit events of all sizes, whether it’s larger international events and conferences, smaller executive meetings or incentives and team-building in a superb natural environment,” enthuses Holt.
The success of Cardiff airport should also boost both the city and wider region’s popularity with both business travellers and MICE organisers – passenger numbers rose by 9 per cent in 2017 taking total traffic up to nearly 1.5 million thanks to new routes to Madrid (Iberia Express), Guernsey (Blue Islands) and Rome (Flybe).
In another coup for the airport, Qatar Airways will become the first Gulf-based carrier to offer a service from Wales when it launches flights between Cardiff and Doha from 1 May – initially operating five times per week before going daily from 18 June. This service alone is forecast to boost the airport’s passenger numbers by 100,000 per year.
The Welsh government-owned airport, which has increased passenger traffic by 50 per cent since 2013, has also announced a £4 million investment to improve the terminal, including an expansion of its executive lounge, new shops and enhanced parking facilities. Longer term, the airport’s aspirations are to double passenger numbers to three million by 2025 and eventually open a new £100 million terminal.
With so much in its favour, Cardiff looks set to grow as a MICE destination. The Welsh capital is on to a winner and not just on the rugby pitch.
Top incentives in and around Cardiff
• Private singing session with the Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre.
• Combine whisky-making at Penderyn Distillery with team-building activities in the Brecon Beacons.
• Go white-water rafting at Cardiff International White Water Centre.
• Visit the Principality Stadium and then head to Cardiff Castle (above) to engage in some team activities.
• Head to the Vale Resort for 4x4 driving, quad biking, archery, clay shooting, golf and spa facilities.
• View original sketches and drawings from artists, including Picasso, Rembrandt and Turner, which are not on public display, during a private visit to the National Museum Cardiff.