NEC Group reveals destination growth plans

NEC Group chief executive Paul Thandi, second left, at the groundbreaking for Legoland Discovery Centre Birmingham
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The NEC Group is putting the building bricks in place for its continued growth as it officially launched the construction of the Legoland Discovery Centre Birmingham.

50 jobs will be created when the £7m visitor attraction opens next summer.

The venue will be built over two floors at Arena Birmingham and will be operated by Merlin Entertainments, the global entertainment group whose brands include Madame Tussauds and Sea Life, as well as Midlands attractions Alton Towers and Warwick Castle.

The NEC Group and Merlin will also be working together on another Merlin venue at the National Exhibition Centre site, which will be officially announced later in the year.

It was one of several investments the NEC Group is making in the near future – it has been confirmed as the operator of a mid-sized venue in Bradford while it is also finalising plans for a new 10,000-seater arena in Paris.

The addition of Legoland at Arena Birmingham – which was recently rebranded from the Barclaycard Arena after the sponsorship lapsed – will further boost the group’s strategy of creating destinations that target the family market.

“Not only will the new attraction create genuine destination credentials by adding to our existing offer, it will also give our customers even more of the experiences they want from us,” said Paul Thandi, chief executive of NEC Group.

“At the same time, it will contribute to the overall tourism and leisure offer in Birmingham’s developing city centre, thereby contributing positively to the regional economy and creating new job opportunities for local people.”

Disney has indicated it will look to bring more shows to the Arena on the back of Legoland, while the NEC Group also has the National Sea Life Centre at Brindleyplace opposite the Arena. The retail units below the Arena vacated by La Tasca and wine bar Dubella more than a year ago are also now expected to be filled.

The NEC Group was taken out of Birmingham City Council ownership by LDC at the start of 2015 in a £300m deal, enabling the management team to raise its ambitions for the business.

“We can now move quicker, we can do the deals,” said Paul Thandi. “The reason we can do that coming out of council ownership is capital risk – we can invest in capex.

“Under LDC we have invested around 4-5 times more each year than we did under the council.”

The NEC Group’s most recent financial figures showed revenues of £134m in the year to March 2016, and its 2017 financial year is expected to show a step up when they are published shortly.

Thandi added: “LDC have been great. They have said ‘it’s in your plan, get on with it’.

“There’s a genuine shared interest in growing the business sustainably.”

The NEC Group’s venues also include the ICC, the Vox Conference Centre, and Resorts World Birmingham, while it operates standalone service businesses including The Ticket Factory and caterer Amadeus.

Its strong performance was recognised at’s Business Masters awards in June, with the group winning the Large Business of the Year award and Thandi being named Ambassador of the Year.