The NEC Group is hoping plans for a new casino and sharp growth in its Ticket Factory group will help it bounce back from £12.3 million losses last year.
Interest payments on 25-year loans for building work on the ICC and NIA meant that despite operating profits of £24.1 million, the group was in the red last year.
But plans for a £90 million supercasino – creating up to 1,000 jobs – have been submitted and would provide a significant boost to the exhibition and events venues group.
In recent years the company has sought to expand into new markets and chief operating officer John Hornby said its Ticket Factory business – part of those plans – would grow by more than 50 per cent this year.
Mr Hornby also said the group has enjoyed growth in this financial year, but admitted the market for the company remains fragile.
He added: “Exhibitions, particularly on the trade side, have been difficult for us, just as they have for the rest of the UK. But the only significant exhibition which was cancelled was the Commercial Vehicle Show and that ran again in 2010.
“On the conference side the difficulties came in corporate conferences. There are conferences run by associations and they held up reasonably but we struggled on the corporate side.”
He added: “It is a slow and steady recovery. We have seen trade this year in line with expectations, or perhaps marginally ahead, and we have grown compared to last year.”
The group’s exhibition business, based at the NEC in Solihull, individually delivered a profit of £29.6 million last year which was down 27 per cent.
As a result of tough conditions the group made 82 redundancies across the year.
The arenas and Ticket Factory business delivered an operating profit of £3.8 million in the year, which was down 22 per cent on a record result last year, but the results of this division reflected the temporary closure of the LG Arena for a six-month period during the financial year to enable its £29 million refurbishment.
Mr Hornby said he expected the group’s Ticket Factory arm to see strong growth next year on the back of lucrative tie up deals, including with the Royal Horticultural Society.
He said: “We envisage selling more than two million tickets this year through Ticket Factory.
“To put that into context, last year we sold 1.3 million tickets.”
The convention centres business – which is predominantly the ICC but also includes management services to the Convention Centre Dublin – reported a 26 per cent fall in turnover and a 47 per cent decline in operating profits, to £3.6 million, on the back of a fall in business spend.
Mr Hornby said the plans for a new casino were reliant on operator Genting UK winning a bid with Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. A decision is expected early next year and if successful the giant new casino would be on NEC grounds.
“Should they get that licence they will build a fantastic new leisure complex here at the NEC. That fits in very well with our plans to broaden the appeal and open up new revenue streams.’’
He said the Conservative Party conference and the return of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year later this year will be major boosts to the group, as will the run of comedian Peter Kay at the venue next year.
NEC Group chief executive Paul Thandi added: “Looking towards the future, The NEC Group has robust plans to secure new streams of profit, jobs and economic impact for the region. We are delighted that Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has commenced the licensing competition for a large casino and are working hard in supporting our partners, Genting UK, through that process.’’