Wales’ Celtic Manor Resort commands attention as a tourist draw and golf mecca

While on a business trip to help establish Mitel’s European headquarters, Canadian entrepreneur Terry Matthews was driving on the M4 near Newport, Wales, feeling frustrated by the absence of quality hotels in the area. Through his windshield, he spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign on a derelict country mansion, and it dawned on him the country estate was once the Lydia Beynon Maternity Hospital where he was born. Matthews pulled off the road and pointed the car towards the property where he met a groundskeeper that let him look around. Before long, the entrepreneur realized he had stumbled upon the perfect location for a hotel.

Matthew’s goal was to create a resort to serve the Welsh community and impact the country’s tourism trade. Founded in 1982, using the site’s original hospital, the Celtic Manor Hotel grew from 17 to 70 bedrooms in 15 years. Matthew intended to build a landmark resort with a golf course that would attract the coveted Ryder Cup and include conference space so it could be “a world-class destination for both business and leisure.”

Today, the elegantly appointed Celtic Manor Resort Hotel, boasts two hotels with 400 rooms in total. As one of Europe’s largest leisure and convention resorts, it has a 12,000-square-foot exhibition hall and ballroom suitable for 1,500 delegates; three championship golf courses; two full-service spas and several dining venues. Family oriented attractions at the resort include an outdoor climbing apparatus that tests fitness buffs and the new Kingdom of Legends Adventure Golf. The nine-hole mini-course is fashioned after some of the world’s toughest holes, including those at Royal Troon in Scotland, Pebble Beach in California and, of course, Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten. Off the green, guests can browse boutiques selling souvenirs styled from Clogau gold, which is mined in the Snowdonia mountains in Wales — the same gold used in the wedding ring Prince William gave Kate Middleton, The Duchess of Cambridge.

Celtic Manor has been voted the UK’s Top Conference Hotel for the past five years, Europe’s Leading Golf Resort and the UK’s 2011 Sport Venue of the Year. It’s also been named Europe’s Best Hotel and Best Spa destination.

Asked what he attributes the Manor’s success to, Matthews notes the location and grand scale of the resort, which is reportedly the most expensive hotel ever built by an individual in Britain. “That makes The Celtic Manor unique in the marketplace. There’s nowhere like it,” says the founder of the £160-million project.

Few would disagree about the hotel’s appeal. In fact, in a Celtic Manor record, the 2011 occupancy rate was 78 per cent with rooms starting at £139 per night.

Matthews credits the 2010 Ryder Cup for Celtic Manor’s transformation from the UK’s Best Convention Hotel into its current standing as a global brand. “Overnight, we were put in front of a billion eyeballs and that had a huge impact,” says Matthews. “A lot of business was done in the hospitality tents over those four days.” Beyond pinpointing Wales on a global map of prime golf destinations, and luring golfers from all parts to play championship fairways, the Ryder Cup fame enticed companies to book conventions (whether they were golfers or not).

According to Matthews, golf tourism represented £7 million to the Welsh economy when the Ryder Cup was awarded to Wales in 2001. In 2010, it accounted for £42 million. He credits the six-fold increase to “a great team” working under his son, Dylan Matthews, Celtic Manor’s CEO.

Success aside, the Newbridge, Wales native doesn’t have ambitions to build other hotels. “I’m proud of being Welsh, and I’m pleased the resort contributes £18-million sterling a year to the local community in salaries paid to local staff and contracts with suppliers in the area. At heart, though, I’m a businessman and The Celtic Manor is a successful business.”

That said, Matthews humbly notes Celtic Manor’s success inspired him to build the 276-room Brookstreet Hotel — complemented with 18 holes called The Marshes — in Ottawa, a city he affectionately calls his other hometown. Yet the high-tech, Wales-educated entrepreneur says he’ll remain true to his Mitel roots. “Electronics is my main business, and I’m not going into the resort business in a big way.”

So, how much leisure time does the businessman afford himself on his world-famous golf course? As an executive of Mitel, and chairman and CEO of March Networks Corp., a leading developer of interactive Broad-band IP applications, Matthews rarely has time to play golf. His hole-in-one has come in a different form — his contribution to British tourism has been royally recognized. In 1994, he was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire, and, a few years later, he was knighted Sir Terence Matthews by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

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