12 Sep 2016
I can barely believe that by the end of September it will have been three years since the SSE Hydro officially opened its doors.
The annual SECC review for 2015/16 just popped into my inbox, and it will come as no surprise to any Glaswegian that the investment in the Hydro has delivered exactly what was intended - and a good bit more besides.
There are a few statistics that really stand out. The headline of course is that the SSE Hydro is the third busiest music arena in the world. That’s measured by ticket sales, and is confirmed by the concert venue publication Pollstar, which places only the O2 in London and the Manchester Arena ahead of the Hydro in its 2015 year-end stats.
The O2 is in a league of its own with over 1.8 million ticket sales, but Glasgow is in an even battle with Manchester and with Madison Square Gardens in New York for the remaining slots in the Top Four, all with sales just over the million mark. There is then a big sales gap of £200k down to arenas in Amsterdam and Mexico City.
Being the third largest concert venue in the world is an achievement in itself. But there is another positive consequence from the opening of the Hydro. Last year across the wider SECC campus, SEC Ltd grew the conference business revenue by 18% and the exhibition revenue by 17%.
It was a basic argument of the business case for building the Hydro that it would free up space in the main exhibition halls and the results are vindicating that case.
There were 16 international conferences at the SECC, attracting over 37,000 overseas delegates including the Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics and the European Human Genetics Conference.
In 2015, according to figures from the International Congress and Convention Association, Glasgow came 49th out of over 400 in the global league table for international meetings. That may not sound dramatic until you realise how many cities there are across the world that are substantially bigger than Glasgow.
Glasgow was generating more international business than cities like Chicago, Hamburg and Manchester. Even more astonishingly, the city is 28th in the world for the number of delegates attracted.
I well remember making the case within Scottish Enterprise that the Hydro investment was a classic economic development project in that the benefits would stretch well beyond the revenues the SECC would secure themselves.
Crudely it was estimated that for every pound the SECC earned, another three would be generated for businesses across the city and the wider country. So we had expected that there would be a healthy boost to our transport companies, hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. Now, in his report, SEC Ltd chairman Will Whitehorn puts a total figure on that for 2015/16 of £411m for Glasgow and £308m for Scotland.
These are enormous figures when you consider that the total investment cost for the Hydro was around £125m. And to put the SECC’s scale further into perspective, Edinburgh International Conference Centre recently reported that it would generate £50m for its city, a highly creditable result, but only an eighth of what the SECC is doing for Glasgow.
One thing we hadn’t expected when we made the case for supporting the Hydro investment was the extent to which entrepreneurs and investors would respond, with the result being the success of Finnieston. It certainly helps that the bridge across the Clydeside Expressway makes it easy to reach the Hydro from the district but it needed the business community to exploit the opportunity - and they most certainly did.
The outcome is a highly visible demonstration of what neighbourhood regeneration can look like following a substantial investment in the city’s infrastructure.
What is even more cheering is the news that the SECC is now planning the next phase of its development. There is growing confidence that Glasgow’s share of the conference and exhibition markets can be expanded even more and that, for example, more hotel capacity can be built around the campus.
The City Council especially deserves credit for the support it has given to the SECC, being the major shareholder helping to solve the financial challenges of funding the Hydro investment after the 2008 crash. I have no doubt the Council will be an active supporter of campus expansion as the plans develop.
Certainly the Chamber is a vocal supporter of the work of Will Whitehorn, Peter Duthie and the SECC team. It is an enormous asset to the city and promises to keep Glasgow firmly on the world stage.