The Convention Centre Dublin and Belfast Waterfront are both state-of-the-art convention centres attracting thousands of delegates every year. Their facilities, close proximity to the city centre, waterfront location and unique charm offer associations a unique conference experience and continue to impress delegates from around the globe.
We spoke to Dermod Dwyer, Executive Chairman of The CCD and Catherine Toolan, Managing Director of Belfast Waterfront to find out more about their history, the big changes that are taking shape and what they think the future holds for their convention centre.
Tell us a little about the history of the Belfast Waterfront
Our venue is the only purpose-built international convention centre in Northern Ireland and the team boasts over two decades’ experience in delivering events. The venue first opened in 1997 and played host to a galaxy of entertainment and conferencing events. Northern Ireland’s burgeoning business tourism sector, coupled with the increase in demand for conference, exhibition and breakout space indicated the need for an increase in venue capacity, hence our recent redevelopment.
How did the extension in 2016 come about?
The redevelopment, which was funded by Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund significantly increased the capacity of the venue and means that it is much better equipped to compete on a global stage and deliver events with complex requirements that are attended by thousands of delegates.
Why have you decided to change the name?
The decision to resposition was informed by both the increased capability of the venue and comprehensive research that indicated the venue has the potential to be one of the UK and Ireland’s best performing International Convention Centres. The spaces and facilities are world-class, it’s ideally located at the heart of one of Europe’s most accessible, vibrant and flourishing cities and the compact nature of Belfast makes for a city-wide conference experience like no other. However, the Belfast Waterfront brand identity did not resonate strongly with event buyers and grouping the live entertainment and conferencing offerings under one universal brand was potentially misleading. To this end, the two distinct markets will adopt unique identities; ICC Belfast and Waterfront Hall.
What do you see for the future of ICC Belfast?
ICC Belfast’s future looks bright as the venue enters this hugely exciting new chapter. Together with our city partners we look forward to winning and delivering more conferences so that everyone in our city can benefit socially, culturally and economically from welcoming new visitors to our city. Today, tomorrow and beyond.
The Convention Centre Dublin
Tell us a little about the history of the CCD?
The Convention Centre Dublin (The CCD) opened its doors in September 2010, but the story of its evolution goes back many, many years. As a former President of the Irish Hotels Federation myself I recall us all – commercial and political interests – campaigning for a “national conference centre” as far back as the ‘80s. The 1987 adaptation by Government of a national policy to double Irish tourism over five to seven years, coupled with the introduction of European funds to the specific European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme for the tourism sector, gave this idea real momentum. Industry lobbying and support, from Nicky and her colleagues in the Professional Conference Organisers (PCOs), gave the case momentum and strength. In 1992, a national conference centre was specifically identified as a key product to be considered, along with proposed grant funding, and it became a real possibility. That’s when I became personally involved in promoting the idea and eventually in 1997 putting my first office in Spencer Dock to make it happen.
After a lengthy process and various stop-start promises, the Spencer Dock site was eventually successful out of five short-listed tenderers. In 2005 the contract was signed, and so construction and development of The Convention Centre Dublin began. After over 20 years of developing and nurturing this idea, on September 10, 2010, the CCD opened for business and, together with the Samuel Beckett Bridge, has become the iconic landmark backdrop symbolising the ‘new and modern Dublin and Ireland’.
What has been a stand- out moments for you over the years?
I suppose for me personally it’s been the privilege of shepherding the design, build, funding and eventually operating the project – at over €300 million it’s the largest investment ever by the Irish Government in an Irish tourism project. And the CCD is the first major public access building commissioned by the Irish Government since the foundation of the state. It now proudly takes its place along the Liffey with the Customs House and Four Courts.
There have been many wonderful events here since opening. We have played host to over 1,600 events, both large and small. It’s hard to choose a stand-out events, but a few that were special for me personally were Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh’s first State Visit to Ireland in 2011, One Young World 2014 and the PPP European Party conference attended by 17 Prime Ministers in 2013.
How many delegates have walked through the doors?
We have had the honour of hosting many international and national delegates to The CCD in the last eight years. We estimate almost 2.5 million guests have experienced the unique CCD hospitality. Since opening, The CCD has attracted just shy of 221,000 International Conference Delegates (ICDs) alone, a fantastic achievement, when you consider each ICD is worth €1,600 to the local economy.
Do you believe The CCD has been a success?
The CCD has indeed been a success, not just as a business, but also as an economic contributor. Since September 2010, a contribution of over €320m to the local economy has been delivered by The CCD. The business opened at the height of the international recession but despite these headwinds it has surpassed all expectations to become one of the key platforms of business tourism in Ireland. Our own clients tell us what really makes a difference, what really makes The CCD stand apart, is the people and exceptional service they deliver. In addition, the venue has won 40 industry awards, including ‘World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Centre 2017’
So, what’s the future plan for The CCD?
A major milestone for the venue is coming up in 2020 when The CCD celebrates the ten-year anniversary of its opening and 15-year anniversary of contract signing. Our vision is to be “the world’s favourite venue, experts in delivering world class events. We set the standard for excellence, creating memories and experiences worth sharing” and with such a successful near-decade behind us, the management team looks forward to continuing this well into the future.
However, future success can’t be taken for granted. Dublin and Ireland will have to remain competitive and there are certainly headwinds, such as Brexit, a shortage of hotel rooms in the city and competitiveness of Dublin globally. Together with our various stakeholders and industry partners and yourselves – Conference Partners – the team at The CCD looks forward to continuing to deliver exceptional service to its clients and competing on a world stage, attracting ICDs to Ireland and making an economic contribution to the city. And maybe having some fun along the way!
Thank you for inviting me to have a chat on the eve of your own momentous 20th anniversary. Heartiest congratulations from all of us at Clann CCD.