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Irish Tourism&Business bodies welcome conference centre

Major tourism and business interests have come together to welcome the announcement that Spencer Dock International Conference Centre Consortium is the designated provisional preferred tenderer…

Major tourism and business interests have come together to welcome the announcement that Spencer Dock International Conference Centre Consortium is the designated provisional preferred tenderer to develop the National Conference Centre. The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Dublin Convention Bureau, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC), the Association of Irish Professional Conference Organisers (AIPCO) and the Business Tourism Forum stated that this is a strategically important element of tourism infrastructure and it will, when operational, be a major contributor to the Irish economy. The industry bodies recommend that the focus now has to be on securing a definite delivery date and the development of a comprehensive international marketing strategy to position Ireland and Dublin internationally, as having a specific state-of-the-art national conference centre to compete with the best in the world.

The industry bodies stated that certainty of delivery, combined with a major international launch providing details of the facility, should be undertaken to communicate globally that Ireland is now a world player in the international conference market. Whilst acknowledging that this is a major construction project that may take up to three years to complete, the industry bodies stressed that the international conference market operates on a long lead in time basis with conferences being planned five to seven years in advance. A strategic plan that would efficiently market Ireland’s new centre internationally and target conferences currently at planning stages, could result in the national conference centre being used as soon as it is opened.

The commitment of John O’Donoghue, T.D., Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism since he took up office to prioritise the need for this vital piece of national infrastructure was strongly acknowledged by the trade and tourism representative bodies. The concept for the development of an International Conference Centre was first introduced in the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999 report. The global conference market has 870 international association conferences taking place in Europe. It is estimated that an additional 19 major international conferences would be held in Ireland every year if a conference centre is built. That would attract an additional 44,000 delegates and equal 153,700 delegate days and add more than €50million annually to the Irish economy.

This would reverse the decline in overnight business tourism visitors that has seen a drop from 945,000 in 2000 to 819,000 in 2004. This decline in business visitors occurred during a period in which Ireland’s GDP grew by over 22%. All successful worldwide economies attract business and association conferences and events and Ireland is missing a major opportunity to fully benefit from this lucrative tourism sector. This is also important as conferences attract visitors throughout the year. It is estimated that the centre would provide an extra 3,100 jobs to the economy, including 1,400 during the construction phase and would generate an extra €140 million for the Exchequer in tax revenues.

Richard Bourke, IHF President stated that it is estimated that the national conference centre will generate at least €50 million per annum to the economy and place Dublin and Ireland firmly on the international conference circuit. This announcement is of immense importance and will, when operational, have a significant positive impact on tourism and the overall economy.

“The unveiling of a new conference centre for Dublin and Ireland will have as significant an impact on Irish tourism as did the announcement of the Ryder Cup coming to Ireland. The period between the announcement of the conference centre and its actual opening should receive the same intensity of marketing attention and focus as the Ryder Cup 2006 plans so as to ensure maximum awareness across all markets. It is during this construction phase that advantage can be taken to market the centre internationally and gain a share of conferences that could be held in the facility as soon as it is opened. This is a vital piece of national infrastructure and ideally should be developed in the quickest time possible. It’s also imperative that an international launch is held to announce the specific plans for its delivery once agreed, so that conference planners can put Ireland into their schedules when organising major events for three years onwards. It is one thing to build the centre, but it also needs to be effectively marketed so that it can achieve its full potential in terms of attracting high level events as soon as possible. It has the potential to generate impressive revenues as the estimated spend per conference delegate, is €1,360 whilst they are in the country – that’s more than double the average tourist visitor spend,” Richard Bourke said.

Clive Brownlee, President of The Greater Dublin Regional Executive of IBEC stated: “The coming on stream of an international convention centre will bring key decision makers and leaders in research and development to Ireland, providing the IDA and other support agencies with the opportunity to build important strategic relationships. Multinational corporations have a tendency to stage international meetings where they have an operation/base. Ireland has large number of multinational companies and is particularly strong in the areas of financial services, IT, food/agriculture, legal and medical/healthcare sectors. The attraction of large international meetings will provide the opportunity to further showcase Ireland to the key decision makers within those organisations and encourage the expansion of their existing base here.”

Gina Quin, Chief Executive, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, added that, because of the absence of an international convention centre, Ireland had been losing business tourism to other cities around Europe. “While Dublin is Europe’s third most popular destination for weekend city breaks, we do not even enter the top 20 destinations that are considered for corporate and association conference meetings. This announcement will give Dublin the opportunity to compete with the best conference destinations in Europe and as such achieve a rank for business conferences more in keeping with its ranking as a popular tourist destination. Internationally Dublin is seen as a great spot for tourism with excellent accommodation but we lack the right conference facilities. As a result we are losing out on conference tourism to other cities in western and eastern Europe. In Edinburgh they had an increase of more than 100,000 business tourists upon the opening of their conference centre. There is no reason why a similar figure could not be achieved in Dublin,” she said.

Catherine Reilly, Chairwoman of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation while welcoming the announcement stated that the need now is to announce a definite completion date for when the Conference Centre will be operational. “The targets set by the Government appointed Tourism Policy Review Group to double the value, to Ireland, of international tourism is dependent on remedying a number of deficiencies in our tourism infrastructure, of which the lack of a convention centre was identified as one of the greatest. The provision of this conference centre within a reasonable time frame will contribute to making the Government’s target more achievable. This puts greater urgency on the completion of the second terminal at Dublin airport in order that the high spending international conference delegates can be accommodated at a modern and efficient airport,” said Ms Reilly.

Over two years ago the Dublin Convention Bureau was set up to promote Dublin as a venue for conferences, corporate meetings and incentive travel. This initiative, funded by the Dublin Branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, the Association of Professional Conference Organisers, Dublin Tourism and Dublin City Council, is having substantial success in heightening the interest of conference organisers in holding major events in Dublin. However, its Chief Executive, Jean Evans emphasised that this announcement can enable DCB to proactively spread the message internationally that a state-of-the-art conference centre will at last be a reality. “Dublin can be favourably considered as a location for major events which unfortunately in the past we had been unable to accommodate and as result would have lost up to a €1million a week to the economy,” she said.

The Association of Irish Professional Conference Organisers (AIPCO) welcomed the announcement of the development of the conference in a near city centre location. “It is encouraging that we will be shortly in a position to compete for some of the 4,000 conferences that rotate on a worldwide and European basis – some 80% of these could have the potential to be hosted in Ireland. Currently, of these only 1.6% is actually held here with only 20% of that minute figure being in the more than 500 delegate category. These statistics suggest that not only is Ireland not getting its fair share of the total market but is also losing out on the larger conferences,” said Terri Cullinane, Chairperson, APICO.

Peter Malone, Chairman of the Business Tourism Forum emphasised; “This is a major positive shot in the arm for the business tourism sector. I am confident that once an effective launch and marketing strategy is underway that we can increase Ireland’s less than 1% share of the €40 billion international business tourism market. A state-of-the-art national convention centre will greatly assist Ireland to achieve a more meaningful share of this valuable market. The International Congress and Convention Association estimate there are over 4,000 business association conferences held every year with a spend ranging from €500,000 to €20 million each. Clearly hosting such events would bring extra revenue to the economy and it must be clearly understood that this is a vital export business to the country.”

In a ‘PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2001 report on maximising Ireland’s potential in the conference market a number of interesting trends were revealed. Firstly, multinational corporations have a tendency to stage international meetings where they have a base. With so many multinational companies having an operation in Ireland it is thought Ireland would obviously be at an advantage in this regard.

The report also shows that countries who generate the largest volume of corporate meetings receive the largest volumes of foreign direct investment. Without a dedicated convention centre Dublin is not in a position to take advantage of these trends and as a result it is not making best use of the resources available.

All the above mentioned industry bodies reaffirmed that the procurement of a national state of the art convention centre in a central Dublin location as announced will be a major asset to the national economy and are confident it will provide substantial returns to industry and exchequer alike.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.