ICC Belfast chief pledges to deliver £100m for city's economy by 2021

ICC Belfast managing director Catherine Toolan and chair of the board of directors, Ellvena Graham at the official launch event of ICC Belfast
Gareth McKeown

THE managing director of the newly-named ICC (International Convention Centre) Belfast has pledged to deliver £100m for the local economy by 2021.

Catherine Toolan, who in the past two and and half years has overseen the delivery of 108 conferences, generating £17m for the city, believes the new conferencing brand identity for Belfast Waterfront can help the venue become a world-leading player in its field.

“We have the facilities, infrastructure, team and city-wide support to deliver major international conferences in Belfast," she said

“By attracting the international conference market, we aim to deliver 50,000 conference delegate days each year by 2021 across the city. This will generate £100m in economic impact for Belfast and contribute to the creation of 1,500 jobs.”

"Our target is to deliver six international conferences per year by 2020. That might sound like a very small number compared to the 108, but an international conference normally has up to 1,000 delegates and brings with it significant impact and there are not thousands of those type of conferences," she continued.

Speaking to The Irish News, Ms Toolan, a Sligo native, said the pipeline of works is "strong" and revealed that a deal was struck on Wednesday for a medical conference to take place at the ICC Belfast in both 2024 and 2027, which could deliver a combined £10m fillip for the economy.

Although tight-lipped on the exact details at this early stage, the managing director is encouraged about the future of the convention centre, which completed a £29.5m extension in 2016. She believes it is "absolutely achievable" to bring in a major Chinese conference in the future.

"A lot of the world associations are headquartered in either Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg or indeed London, so that's our starting point. Of course the opportunity to grow internationally is huge and we see the opportunities in the likes of China. It's longer-term, but we have to look."

"I believe we can become a world-class player in the field. We have all of the ingredients to become a world-class player. In terms of the conference development we have lots of room to grow and lots of potential."

Ms Toolan recognised the potential difficulties that could be caused by a no-deal Brexit, but in a business where you are usually looking at least five years ahead, she has no choice, but to press ahead.

"Of course Brexit is a huge challenge for us, but I am hoping, as I'm sure every business leader is, that sense will somehow prevail in the next couple of months and that the deal that will be done will not impact Northern Ireland. That's the way we're moving forward, that's the positivity that we bring when we're selling a conference, there is no other way."

The official launch of ICC Belfast was held yesterday morning, with over 100 guests from a range of businesses, industries and organisations part of a breakfast briefing.

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