Susie McCullough of Belfast Waterfront talks to Sydney PauldenNo wonder all the staff at Belfast Waterfront are excited. You just have to listen to Susie McCullough’s account of what has been happening – and what is going to happen.
Susie is Sales and Marketing Director for the conference centre. The Lord Mayor of Belfast is opening their new extension on April 29, 2016. There is an event scheduled for May 4th and from 11 to 13 May Belfast Waterfront will host over 1,000 delegates to a conference for the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland.
‘Extension’ is not really the word to describe it, because, measuring in itself 4,000sqm, it is doubling the useable event space.
‘It has already proved’, says Susie, ‘that it opens a much wider market for us. We have exceeded our targets for the next few years, with over 30 new national and international conferences already booked for the first 3 years of opening, because of the integrated and very flexible facilities we can now offer. We are currently concentrating on selling into 2018 to 2020. The space for events now totals 7,000sqm. There is a huge new hall with a 9m ceiling height that can hold large conferences or can seat as many as 1,000 people at a gala dinner. It can also be divided down into four spacious but smaller areas.’
Susie says that during the planning the emphasis has been on flexibility. ‘We can cater for large conferences with accompanying exhibitions, or large exhibitions with attendant meetings, or large conventions with separate break-out rooms.’
They are all also very confident as the opening day approaches. ‘We held a trial event that tested all the facilities’, she explains. ‘We hosted a workshop for the staff of the tourism authorities of Northern Ireland and Belfast. It also included taxi drivers, event and wedding organisers and so on.
‘The catering, the lifts and escalators and the movement of furniture were all put through their paces. Everyone was very impressed’.
The theme of this workshop was that it is not just the Belfast Waterfront that is being sold to the world, but the experience of the City of Belfast as a whole.
‘We looked at the overall delegate experience’, Susie goes on ‘Visitors may come to attend an event, but during their stay they will use the airports, public transport, the restaurants and bars and pubs and see our many great visitor attractions.’
Naming a few, Susie mentions the concerts that are held at the neighbouring Ulster Hall, the unique experience at Titanic Belfast. Crumlin Road Gaol and Ulster Museum fascinate visitors and people enjoy touring the facilities of Belfast City Hall.
‘These are all very easy to reach, as Belfast Waterfront is in the city centre and close to all the big hotels. The Hilton Belfast is linked directly with the conference centre and there is a choice of accommodation within walking distance that ranges from 3-star to 5-star deluxe’.
Belfast Waterfront has agreed a marketing approach with all the main players in the local tourism sector. At base, it focuses on specialist sectors that have been identified as local strengths.
‘We are lucky to have Ulster University and also Queen’s University here and they have high reputations internationally. They especially help to attract events in the medical and related sectors.
‘We have also set our sights at the sectors of technology and software development, renewables and food safety and quality. We have dedicated one salesperson to go for the large corporate gatherings.
‘We are aiming to add £45m per annum to the local economy per year. The new extension is creating 1,500 extra jobs and we can already see that the whole project is attracting new investment into the hotel sector’.
Belfast is served by two airports. The conference centre is 30 minutes from Belfast International and only ten minutes from George Best Belfast City Airport.
‘There is no problem connecting with all UK, Europe and long-haul locations direct or via London, Amsterdam and Dublin.
‘Overseas delegates welcome the value-for-money aspect of Belfast and our attention to detail. For example, I am happy to report that the new extension has been delivered in 18 months, to schedule and to budget’.