The new boss of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre has said the venue will be among the best in the country when completed next year.
Work on the new £333 million structure is well underway and, all going to plan, should open its doors in the summer 2019, just in time for Offshore Europe.
Nick Waight, newly-appointed managing director at the AECC, says the building will be so iconic in the region that he believes it will become synonymous to the hospitality industry.
And he believes the new 12,500-person capacity will allow the north-east to attract all the best international artists as well as major conferences.
Mr Waight took up the post in Aberdeen a few weeks ago having previously been in post as managing director of Group Convention Centres for the NEC Group.
He has also worked as chief executive of The Convention Centre in Dublin and was responsible for overseeing the design, build and operation of the £185 million venue.
During his time in Dublin the venue won 33 industry awards after opening in 2010, in addition to being voted one of the world’s top four convention centres.
He said he has “hit the ground running” since moving to Aberdeen.
He said: “We have a really, really talented group of people here already so the first thing I have been doing is getting to know them a little bit and taking stock of the fact that we have really good people working on delivering what will be a super product.
“It has been a pleasure to be honest. Sometimes you can go into a new venue and think ‘oh gosh what am I going to have to change?’ The reality is not a lot in terms of the people and they are very talented. My job is to take the people that we have got from here and transition that into the new venue. We also have to decide on exactly what that venue will look like in terms of the product because it’s a brand new venue which will be absolutely incredible and we will do something different to what we do here in terms of the packages we put in with rooms.
“We are going through a process of looking at that and seeing how we want to position the room hire.”
Mr Waight said the £330 million investment by Aberdeen City Council was “huge” and as a result he wants to ensure they are “maximising that investment and delivering the right quality products into the market”.
In November 2016 the local authority issued a bond on the London Stock Exchange worth £370 million to cover the cost of the AECC.
But this will have to be paid back over several decades and the City now has to be informed of certain council decisions.
The Scottish Government put forward about 3% of the funding for the project, around £10 million.
Mr Waight went on: “The main benefit of the project will be scale. It will be an absolutely amazing 12,500-capacity venue. It is going to be phenomenal.
“The benefit that brings to us is it opens up channels to more international artists. If we now have 12,500 tickets to sell it gives us more clout with promoters. It is the same sort of size as the Hydro. In the same ilk as Birmingham Arena. The only ones that are really any bigger are Manchester and the O2. It is putting us as a top tier arena in the whole of the UK.”
He said discussions were already being held on who will be the opening act at the AECC, however he said it was too early to make the decision. A lot will depend on who is touring at the time it opens, he said.
However conferences have already been booking up the venue despite it still only being in the building stages.
He said: “Obviously we have a portfolio of exhibitions we already deliver here, I am hoping all of those will transfer over to the new venue. From a conference point of view we have a really good pipeline starting to come through.
“We have already confirmed the British Medical Association, British Elbow and Shoulder Society and there are a lot of others that we are not allowed to release the name of yet, but I am really pleased with the variety and level of commitment associations have already shown by essentially buying off a plan.”
Mr Waight believes being located next to the airport will also have its benefits, however he said they needed to work on a plan to create infrastructure which will connect the AECC to the city centre.
He said: “I think having it located right by the airport will benefit access when people are flying up as it will speed the whole process up.
“We are going to have 500 rooms on site. Around 350 to start with and another 150 coming later on. That will really benefit us because they are good quality rooms with
the Hilton and the Aloft. The Hilton is actually connected to us directly into the centre. But to be honest we have to get the connectivity right into the city centre because a lot of people will still want to stay in there because they will want to go out into the restaurants and everything.
“At the moment we are investigating a number of options as to how to do this but we just have to make sure the centre is linked back into the city so that will happen but we just need to decide what is the best way to do that.”
Since arriving in Aberdeen Mr Waight said he has been really impressed by the collaborative partnerships that are working together across the region.
He said: “What I have seen so far is a very connected city. I am sitting on the board of VisitAberdeenshire so they are very involved as a partner, the council are, the chamber are, Aberdeen Inspired is, One is. It’s a really good approach and it’s really nice to see the city and the region determined to making this area succeed.”
Mr Waight said when the new venue is completed he believes it will be something the whole region will be proud of.
He added: “I think it’s going to be really iconic. I think the design will become synonymous as an image in the hospitality industry around Aberdeen. The thought that has gone into it is absolutely brilliant.
“It is the single largest investment in events facilities that has ever been made in the UK so this is a massive commitment Aberdeen City Council is making diversifying in the economy.
“What you are going to have with the arena is something you are going to be so proud of. We are going to have a really nice restaurant, a really upmarket club lounge and proper food outlets throughout the concourse so the experience people will be able to get in the arena is going to be brilliant.”