Hosting the 2010 Ryder Cup was just the start of a series of ambitious plans for the Celtic Manor Resort. Katherine Price talks to the Celtic Collection's vice-president of operations Matthew Lewis
While many may have expected hosting the 2010 Ryder Cup to have been the high point for the Celtic Manor Resort, the team at the Celtic Collection is out to show that there is life after the prestigious golf tournament.
As well as comprising the Newport resort, the Coldra Court hotel and the Newbridge on Usk Inn, in the past year the group has launched the new Ty^ brand; opened the £86m, 26,000 sq m International Convention Centre (ICC) Wales; and is set to debut both a second Ty^ hotel in Newport and the Westgate hotel in Cardiff in 2020.
The transformation of the former maternity hospital, in which owner Sir Terry Matthews was born, into the Celtic Manor Resort is impressive. As well as beating Gleneagles to host the Ryder Cup, the resort then went on to host the NATO Summit in 2014, when Barack Obama became the first serving US president to visit Wales. It showcased the country as a business destination to the world, says the Celtic Collection's vice-president of operations, Matthew Lewis – what better backdrop to launch the ICC five years later?
The convention centre comprises a pillar-free exhibition hall for up to 5,000 delegates (3,500 for a sit-down lunch), 15 flexible meeting rooms and an auditorium that sits 1,500, as well as access to a ‘woodland walk' offering delegates down-time in nature.
It also has its own 10m-tall dragon standing proudly outside. Lewis declines to comment on how much it cost, but will say it was "more than a Meccano set".
Despite a two-month delay due to heavy snow in March 2018, the centre has already hosted the Green Party Conference, an evening with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the UK Space Conference.
"We still delivered the events we said we were going to deliver, we still honoured the contracts and all of those events have been a success," says Lewis.
It has also addressed the needs of local corporate clients who had outgrown the hotel's existing event space, which caters for 1,500 delegates. It is all part of what Lewis calls the ‘Team Wales' approach. Although it sits on the resort's estate and has been half-funded by the business in a joint venture with the Welsh government, its delivery requires the support of local transport businesses and other accommodation providers in the area and it is anticipated to bring £100m a year into the south Wales economy.
"We've been able to not only showcase Celtic Manor, but also Wales as a destination," says Lewis, who is confident the conference centre will attract both business and leisure tourism.
It was another mark of confidence and continued investment into Newport, even though Canada-based Matthews famously threatened to quit the city after planners forced him to keep a ruined farmhouse next to the Ryder Cup clubhouse for the tournament.
"He could have put the money into Cardiff or Swansea, but he chose Newport and he chose the site here at the Celtic Manor," Lewis points out. "He's very passionate about Wales and Newport as a location."
The ICC has also in part been the catalyst for the launch of the Celtic Collection's new Ty^ brand, a mid-range offering which means ‘house' in Welsh. The 334-bedroom Celtic Manor Resort already operates at around 90% occupancy and estimates are that the ICC will require another 500 bedrooms in the vicinity to service it.
As well as developing new accommodation themselves, Lewis hopes the ICC stimulates others to develop rooms in the area. Garrison Barclay Estates is already busy transforming Newport's tallest building, Chartist Tower in the city centre, into a 15-storey, 150-bedroom Mercure hotel, due to open next year.
The relaunch of the 148-bedroom former Hilton Newport as the Coldra Court by Celtic Manor hotel in 2016 was originally intended to serve as more accessible accommodation for the ICC. However, Lewis says it very quickly became popular with the resort's golf market.
"We realised there was still opportunity for us to continue to expand," he says. He and his team also realised the need for a separate brand identity from Celtic Manor, as using the resort's name created a false expectation among guests.
He says, "We learned that we would need to make more differentiation of what the resort was and what a Celtic Manor hotel was, and what was inevitably going to be a development of a more mid-range offering."
And so the Celtic Collection was born, encompassing the Celtic Manor Resort, Ty^, ‘hotels by Celtic Manor' (including the Coldra Court hotel), ‘Inspired' properties (‘one-offs' and heritage properties such as the Newbridge on Usk and the Westgate hotel), its food and beverage offerings and meeting and event spaces including the ICC.
The group is seeking to expand Ty^ both in Wales and further afield, with a target of six hotels over the next two to three years. The group acquired the former Hampton by Hilton in Magor earlier this year and have relaunched it under the brand, with work already under way on the construction of a second in Newport for next year.
Although an unusual name that some may struggle to pronounce (the correct pronunciation is ‘tee'), Lewis says they saw it as an opportunity for staff to explain its meaning. He adds that it's a good marketing tool – the first thing that comes up on Google for "Ty^ hotel" is the Celtic Collection, just months after the launch.
Although the exact brand standards are still being developed, Lewis describes it as simple and unfussy, and although corporate it is "bright and bold", like its daffodil yellow logo.
The portfolio will feature properties both owned and managed by the Celtic Collection, more often new builds, and be adaptable for the location, such as location-inspired food and beverage offerings and flexibility inthe balance of room types. For the meantime sights are set on Cardiff city centre and Bristol for new properties, but Lewis says it won't just be a city centre brand: "You could almost put one anywhere.
"Wherever we take the brand in the future, it will always have those Welsh roots, which is really important to us. The short-term plan is Wales, the next step is domestic UK, and then who knows what the future holds?
Meanwhile, the Celtic Collection was announced as the operator of the Westgate hotel in Cardiff earlier this year, a 175-bedroom hotel being built within the Grade II-listed former Post Office on Westgate Street by property developer Rightacres and the Welsh Rugby Union.
Work has already begun on the four-star hotel, which will feature a tea lounge, 120-cover restaurant, a Champagne and cocktail bar, lounge, outside terrace and 400-delegate function space on the ground floor, as well as a top-floor spa and pool.
Despite the recent focus on the ICC, Lewis says developing the collection's leisure offerings has been key to its success following the Ryder Cup and the recession. "The general feeling among our staff and the wider audience was that the Ryder Cup was the thing that it had all been leading to," he says. "We realised at that time that we had to do two things: get people to understand that there was life after Ryder Cup, and to reposition ourselves to be more than just a conference destination."
As well as running a busy events calendar (the ICC is hosting performances of The Nutcracker on Ice this winter, for instance), and running an on-site ropes course, a winter ice rink and fireworks events, there was the acquisition of the Newbridge on Usk restaurant with rooms in 2012. This ensures Celtic Manor guests have extra choice during their stay, allowing them to eat ‘outside' of the resort while still spending in-house.
And the development of their offering – the collection has eight restaurants and seven bars and cafés – has engaged the community, making the resort a leisure destination for locals as well as residents.
Long-term, the group hopes to bring fine dining back to the resort. Previously, chef James Sommerin oversaw the kitchen at the three-AA-rosette, fine-dining Crown at Celtic Manor restaurant, until the contract with Crown Hotels and Restaurants expired in 2012 and the outlet was replaced by the Mulberry bar.
Lewis says the resort's existing food brands, such as Steak on Six, could be rolled out independently, "as and when high street dining comes back with a vengeance".
Meanwhile, with the industry's ongoing staffing challenges, Lewis says the Celtic Collection's long-term, "grow your own" approach has borne fruit – 76% of the team are British.
As well as having long-term relationships with local schools and further education establishments, the business launched a three-year hotel and hospitality management degree in partnership with the University of South Wales in 2017.
Forty students in total are on the course across the three years, with the first cohort set to graduate next summer. The collection also has an in-house learning and development team and provides 70 internal courses for staff to aid retention.
"That has really helped us when so many parts of the industry are struggling as a result of Brexit," says Lewis, ensuring the expansion of the business has a pipeline of staff. Having established a precedent with the Ryder Cup, Lewis says the group intends to ncontinue beating the odds and achieving what he calls its "audacious goals".
"Who'd have thought the Ryder Cup would come to Wales, or the NATO Summit, or that we'd build a 5,000-delegate convention centre in Wales on the edge of Newport? They've all been audacious goals, they've all been delivered, and I'm confident with the team and ambition that we have and an owner who just wants to do the next big thing, that we will achieve the next set of audacious and ambitious goals."
A potted history
1982 Sir Terry Matthews buys the 19th-century Coldra House and former Lydia Beynon Maternity Hospital and relaunches it as a 17-bedroom hotel – now the Manor House.
1999 The Resort hotel extension is completed, adding 330 bedrooms anda spa and convention centre for 1,500 delegates to the estate.
2010 The resort hosts the Ryder Cup and acquires the Newbridge on Usk Inn.
2014 Celtic Manor hosts the NATO Summit, the first time a serving US president has visited Wales. The resort opens the self-catered Hunter Lodges.
2016 Celtic Manor acquires the 148-bedroom Hilton Newport hotel, renames it the Coldra Court by Celtic Manor hotel and gives it a £2m refurbishment.
2019 The collection acquires the 129-bedroom Hampton by Hilton at Magor and relaunches it under its new Ty^ brand, as well as starting construction on a second property in Newport, due to open September 2020. The group is announced as the operator of the Westgate hotel in Cardiff in partnership with the Welsh Rugby Union and property developer Rightacres, and opens the doors to the £86m, 5,000-delegate International Convention Centre (ICC) Wales.
The Celtic Collection
Celtic Manor Resort
- Coldra Woods, the Usk Valley, Newport NP18 1HQ
- Facilities Three 18-hole golf courses; the Twenty Ten Clubhouse venue with Rafters restaurant and the Samuel Ryder suite; the Forum Health Club and Dylans Health Club
The Resort hotel
- Bedrooms 332
- F&B Steak on Six, the Grill, the Olive Tree & Garden Room, the Signature Lounge, the Mulberry bar, Merlins bar
- Bedrooms 10, all self-catered lodges with four double en suite bathrooms
Manor House hotel
- Bedrooms 65
- F&B Pad restaurant, the Cellar bar, the Manor Lounge
- Facilities The Severn Suite (banqueting room for up to 220 guests), the Langstone Suite (for up to 40 guests), nine meeting rooms
- Chief executive Ian Edwards
Coldra Court hotel
- Chepstow Rd, Langstone, Newport NP18 2LX
- Bedrooms 148
- F&B The Rib Smokehouse & Grill restaurant, the Court bar
- Facilities Springs Health Club
- Wales 1 Business Park, Newport NP26 3RA
- Bedrooms 129
- F&B Sawyers Bar & Grill
The Newbridge on Usk Inn
- Tredunnock, Usk NP15 1LY
- Head chef Adam Whittle
- Bedrooms Six
International Convention Centre (ICC) Wales
- Facilities Main hall (seats 4,100 theatre-style), auditorium (1,500 theatre-style), seven meeting
- rooms (one en suite) and an executive boardroom for up to 20, as well as offices, a business centre, green rooms, atrium, foyers and plazas
- F&B Two cafés, Aspect bar, outside street food stalls, hydration stations
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