Convention city

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The launch of Convention Centre Dublin has changed the capital’s business landscape. Hailed as Ireland’s new icon, the venue promises great things for the city

Stories to the Irish are like rice to the Chinese. A staple of the daily diet and a profitable export. Stand Out is walking with Pat Liddy, an artist and author, whose tactile nature and immense local knowledge are bringing the tales to life. He stops outside The Church: “Now, I’m not religious and this building hasn’t been a church for 20 years but it’s full of Holy Spirits,” he chuckles.

The Church has a revered history. Arthur Guinness married here in 1761, but now it is acquainted with a rather different service – food and drink, with organisers being able to hire its cellar and terrace areas to host private events for 200 and 250 people respectively.

Just down the road, on the banks of the River Liffey sits Number 10, a Georgian house that has been restored to form a lavishly decorated private venue with antique Irish furniture. Organisers can host here dinners for 72 and drinks receptions for 150 – fresh flowers and 400 lit candles are guaranteed if event buyers hire the space. And it’s such finite attention to detail that is captivating the Irish events marketplace.

Number 10’s owner John Lynch argues that a great events space is fabulous but if a venue fails to marry the bricks and mortar with great food and impeccable service it’s a waste of time.

The Grand Canal Theatre is another new project, which is attracting large touring productions, and subsequently both business and leisure tourists. The vast auditorium can accommodate 2111 seats, and can be hired by corporates for lectures and presentations. Offset, a three-day media conference will take place at the venue in early October, making use of the venue’s facilities including the Circle Club (capacity 200).

The theatre sits on a newly developed complex located at the mouth of the Grand Canal basin. Organisers can hire boats to transport guests to the venue, with delegates then walking their way to the space along a brick “red carpet”.

Dublin’s tired docklands area is currently undergoing a major regeneration programme, and its latest addition is being hailed as Ireland’s newest icon.

“The river hasn’t always looked like this,” proclaims TV presenter Craig Doyle, who is compering the official trade launch of the icon that is Convention Centre Dublin (CCD). Tonight sees the centre’s opening ceremony, and as Doyle explains: “This kind of stuff never happens in Dublin. It’s certainly an historic occasion.”

Convention Centre Dublin has been 13 years in the making, and is the result of a Public Private Partnership between the Irish Government and Spencer Dock Convention Centre Dublin (SDCCD) trading as the Convention Centre Dublin.

Almost 900 people have been invited to attend the opening ceremony, including 120 buyers – many from across Europe – all in the hope that they will bring business to this revitalised city.

Mary Hanafin, minster for culture, tourism and sports, describes the building as a “wonderful new addition” and Dublin as a “young and spontaneous” city. These two factors, she says, will attract more companies that want to do business with a well educated population.

Eight of the top 10 ICT and pharmaceutical companies are based in Ireland and the latest Futurebrand survey named Dublin number 10 in the 102 easiest places in the world to do business. It is the CCD’s vision to be the best convention centre in Europe by 2014. It has already spent in excess of one million euro on pre-opening marketing, Nick Waight, chief executive officer of The CCD, tells Stand Out, so with such vast investment you’d expect goals to be achieved.

Hanafin said, in her opening speech: “We want to welcome lawyers to discuss justice and environmentalists to challenge thinking. The facilities here are the best to be found anywhere in the world but in Dublin you can be inspired by the country and its people. The facilities are a sign of the Government’s commitment to ensure we attract the very best business, and the CCD is in the heart of a city that is living, vibrant and cultured.

“We are not West Britain. We are not East America. We are Ireland, we are an island and we are fun,” concluded the minister to rapturous applause.

Inspired investment

As the evening went on, guests were treat to entertainment from the Hallelujah Choir, Celtic Rising and Westlife, as well as a five-course dinner comprising fillet steak and foie gras. The CCD made considerable effort to create a night to remember, with the evening the responsibility of Jillian Hay, CCD’s head of events.

But now the CCD has arrived, what next? Dermod Dwyer, the venue’s chairman, comments: “A good beginning is half the battle and a good beginning is only half the work.”

The convention centre currently has secured 150 events, which will result in over 110 million euro of economic benefit for Dublin, with a further 250 on options or provisional bookings. If all options confirm the city will benefit from 400 million euro. Marathon Event Management, Digital Media Awards, Verve Marketing and Dublin Chamber of Commerce have all booked the venue for banqueting whilst the International Bar Association, British Orthopaedic Association and the Globe Forum are all holding conferences in October 2012, September 2011 and November 2010 respectively.

The venue has 22 meeting spaces, catering from 3 to 3,000. It can hold conferences for up to 8,000 and the flat floor spaces can accommodate banquets, conferences and exhibitions. The Forum, the largest space, comprises 2,721 square metres – the equivalent of 50 double decker buses, The Liffey Suite is 1,650 square metres – that’s room for 250,000 pints of Guinness, and the auditorium, which can seat 2,000, would take the water for 10 Olympic sized swimming pools to fill it.

Naturally, Tourism Ireland is heavily promoting the venue. Annually, a 500,000 euro fund is allocated to support conference ambassadors to win international conferences for Ireland, and this year sees the beginnings of a pilot to attract corporate delegates. A conference delegate is worth 1,500 euro to the economy and a corporate delegate 1,000 euro. In 2009, Ireland welcomed 900,000 business travellers, generating over 500 million euro. The tourist board now has a target of one billion euro by 2013 with France, Germany, UK, USA and now Belgium being the main markets.

But what now?

“This building is a venue for people, place, purpose and prosperity,” adds Dwyer, a point Waight also reiterates.

“My principles are about creating a great experience for delegates. Dublin people are proud of the building from an architectural point of view. It’s an icon.”

And as one delegate put it: “It’s an icon of communication, and every city needs this kind of building.”