During the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) annual conference this past November, it was reported that business events now accounts for 34.4 percent of all tourism in Canada, a big part of Canada’s US$71 billion tourism industry. If you include leisure travel that gets booked around business events, the business event sector increases to about 50 percent of the industry.
What this means is that MICE events in Canada is increasingly playing a larger role in the country’s GDP. The lure of organizing meetings, conferences and trade shows in Canada — lower costs, modern and reliable public transportation, high-quality accommodations and dining facilities, state-of-the-art convention centers, safe and visitor friendly cities — is attracting more U.S. meeting planners than ever before. The meetings and conventions sector alone represents more than US$22.5 billion in economic activity.
“The vast array of restaurants and event venues available in the city surely contributed to enhance our delegates experience in their free time.” Mathias Posch
President and Chairman at International
Conference Services / President at IAPCO
It has recently been very economically advantageous for associations in the U.S. to organize meetings in Canada, with an extremely favorable exchange rate for U.S. organizations. Thus, Canadian suppliers and DMOs expect that more U.S.-based planners will be considering meeting locations in Canada.
Last year, passenger traffic into Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) from the U.S. surged almost 12 percent, and the Association des hôtels du Grand Montréal reported hotel occupancy reached 77 percent.
“This year was again punctuated with city-wide public and MICE events, marking the city’s efforts to position itself as a cultural metropolis and international-caliber destination,” says Christopher Marilley, director of meeting and convention sales for Tourisme Montréal. More than 100 festivals happen in Montréal every year, from world-class culinary events to large outdoor gatherings.
The Palais des Congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre) is downtown just steps away from historic sites, world-class shopping and dining, the Old Port and the Entertainment District. More than 16,000 hotel rooms are available within a 10-minute walk from each other, including approximately 4,000 rooms directly accessible via an underground pedestrian network. For meeting planners and delegates, this means you can enjoy Montréal without worrying about climate and ground transportation logistics.
Montréal offers many excellent hotels that can accommodate groups including: Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, Le Centre Sheraton Montréal Hotel, Le Westin Montréal, Loews Hôtel Vogue, Ritz-Carlton Montréal and the DoubleTree by Hilton Montréal. All these properties have ample meeting and convention space, restaurants and private catering.
The city’s landmark Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is a five-star property located in Old Québec City, with views of the St. Lawrence River and the historic fortified city. The 611-room property offers three restaurants and a large fitness center, as well as 23 function rooms.
Located downtown, in a dynamic neighborhood packed with history and culture, the Centre des Congrès de Québec (Québec City Convention Centre) offers 300,000 sf of exhibition, convention and meeting space in a LEED certified building. The Hilton Québec and Delta Hotels Québec hotels offer a total of 948 rooms, meeting spaces and indoor passageways that link both properties to the Convention Centre.
Event planners have a new venue option — the recently reconstructed Voltigeurs de Québec Armoury in Old Québec City. Originally built in 1885, the structure was damaged by fire in 2008, but reopened for events last year after a US$75 million reconstruction project that blended its historic architecture with a modern design and high-tech amenities. The new Armory is minutes away from the Québec City Convention Centre and can welcome up to 1,300 people in three large rooms and a reception area with views of the Plains of Abraham.
Last year, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) held its annual International Design Engineering Technical Conference and the Computers and Information in Engineering Conference in Québec City.
“A professor at Laval University in Québec City, who was chair of the planning committee suggested we look at Québec City for our annual conference,” says Edmond Valpoort, CMP, manager, conferences and events, for ASME. “After visiting the city, touring the Convention Centre and its adjacent hotels and looking at transportation logistics, we fell in love with the people and all the facilities we visited.”
Valpoort continues, “We used the Hilton Québec City and the Delta Québec City as host hotels, and several other nearby hotels for additional accommodations. Our group of about 1,250 attendees had adequate space at the Convention Centre. We had about 35 concurrent breakout sessions every day, so the space was ideal.”
Like many association planners, Valpoort was pleased with the choice of a Canadian destination for their international conference. They had been to Montréal for two conferences in previous years.
“I’ve been singing the Québec City song to my planner friends for a while now,” Valpoort says. “Our post-conference surveys came back with great reviews from attendees. The location of the Convention Centre was often mentioned in the surveys, how attendees were able to stroll out of the venue at lunch time and find nice places to eat if they didn’t want to dine every day at the conference venue.”
The Convention Centre is just a few minutes away from dozens of excellent restaurants, microbreweries, bistros and sidewalk cafés. The venue is part of a complex that has two restaurants, and light meals are available within the Convention Centre.
Tourism Toronto and its meetings, conferences and events department, Business Events Toronto, report that 26 citywide conventions were held last year, a new record for the number of citywide conventions held in a single year.
The record number of citywide events speaks to Toronto’s place as the hub for innovation, technology, finance and business within Canada. The team at Business Events Toronto taps into Toronto’s strength in these key economic sectors and uses the vibrancy of Toronto to attract these major events to the region. There were also numerous international conferences and meetings.
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre features 442,000 sf of exhibit space, 77 meeting rooms, multipurpose ballrooms, and a theater equipped for performing arts. As part of a recent multimillion-dollar expansion project, there are additional meeting spaces on the South Building’s 600 Level.
The new Hotel X Toronto, a unique 30-story lakefront urban resort that opened last year, offers planners a cutting-edge mix of hospitality, sports and entertainment options on the lakeshore just minutes from downtown. The property is the only hotel on the historic Exhibition Place grounds.The hotel offers more than 80,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space.
The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) held its 19th World Conference on Lung Cancer in Toronto last year with more than 7,000 delegates from around the world.
“The venue requirements for the conference were quite extensive with over 13 concurrent session rooms, large plenaries, a 130,000-sf exhibit space, and over 30 smaller rooms for side meetings and offices,” says Mathias Posh, president and chairman of International Conference Services and president of IAPCO and the core PCO for the Toronto conference. “Therefore, when selecting a destination for the annual conference, appropriate convention facilities are a key deciding factor. In Toronto, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was able to accommodate all of our needs. A plus point was also its location, being right in the center of the city with a large number of hotels within walking distance and easy access to the city’s great public transport services.”
“We contracted with 18 properties downtown for over 3,300 room nights at peak, and 90 percent of our room inventory was less than 15 minutes’ walk to the venue,” says Posh. “Being a CME accredited medical event, our focus is not on social events. However the vast array of restaurants and event venues available in the city surely contributed to enhance our delegates experience in their free time. We did host a private themed event at the Hockey Hall of Fame, a memorable evening for our guests with plenty of photo opportunities.”
Having easy flight connections from the USA, Europe and Asia was another important element for the attendees, and using Toronto’s Pearson International Airport proved to be a perfect fit for the large IASLC group.
“Canada’s principal airport offers travel routes to every continent and a 90 minute flight for over half the U.S. and Canadian population,” Posh says. “The UP Express train connects the airport with the city center in just 25 minutes, with trains departing every 15 minutes.”
Toronto was an extremely good destination choice last year for the IASLC’s conference and resulted in the highest attendance in the history of the event.
Following the success of citywide conferences last year, the momentum continues this year. A Jehovah’s Witnesses International Convention took place recently at the Enercare Centre, with approximately 45,000 delegates. That convention joins other meetings and events secured for 2019, including MPI’s World Education Congress (WEC), the signature event for meeting professionals that attracted 2,000+ attendees to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
For offsite venues, Assembly Chef’s Hall, in downtown Toronto, is Canada’s first chef-driven food hall venue. Boasting 15 internationally inspired concepts, Assembly offers five event spaces for a combined 18,000 sf of indoor/outdoor event space. Large outdoor patios with private bars for summer gatherings, heated indoor spaces offer spacious opportunities in the colder months. Menus for events are fully customizable with healthy breakfast and coffee options, as well as Asian fusion, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Mediterranean, Thai, barbecue and vegetarian options. Assembly Chef’s Hall offers complementary event planning services.
The Shaw Centre offers planners an architectural icon in the heart of Canada’s capital, within walking distance of 6,000 hotel rooms and an easy 20-minute drive from Ottawa/Macdonald–Cartier International Airport. The Shaw books about 500 conventions, meetings and trade/consumer shows a year.
The Westin Ottawa is connected to the Shaw Centre and the CF Rideau Centre via an indoor walkway, and offers planners 27 tech-centric meeting rooms, a Grand Ballroom and another ballroom with windows overlooking the Rideau Canal and Canada’s Parliament building. Fairmont Château Laurier, opened in 1912 and across the street from the Shaw Centre, has expanded its meeting space overlooking the canal. The Ottawa Marriott Hotel also provides over two-dozen meeting rooms, plenty of meeting and event space and four concierge levels.
The Ottawa Conference and Event Centre, 15 minutes from downtown, contains convention space, 37 meeting rooms, extensive F&B services and complimentary underground parking. The facility is connected to the 397-room Courtyard Ottawa East and the 179-room Hampton Inn by Hilton Ottawa.
“Our members chose Ottawa for our 2020 RIMS Canada Conference because Canada’s capital city offers something for all of our 2,000 expected conference attendees,” says Stuart Ruff-Lyon, CMP, DES, vice president of events and exhibitions at New York-based RIMS, the Risk Management Society. “The city has great dining, accommodations, is within walking distance to cultural venues and, important for us, is home to a very vibrant and engaged risk management community. Our society’s 10 Canadian chapters alternate as our conference host, so we are looking forward to a well-attended event in 2020.”
Ruff-Lyon says they have blocked rooms at five downtown hotels for attendee bookings. “Our hotel options include the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Novotel Ottawa, Les Suites Hotel Ottawa, Lord Elgin Hotel and the Westin Ottawa. In addition, the four-day conference will feature networking events at various event spaces and attractions throughout the city.”
Ruff-Lyon also liked that the airport is an easy 15- to 20-minute taxi ride from downtown. “The airport’s location makes travel to the city easy, an advantage that makes any event even more attractive to a larger pool of potential attendees,” Ruff-Lyon says.
The city has many off-site venues that welcome association groups, including several large national museums that can host private receptions, dinners and conferences, including the Canadian Museum of History, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Canada.
The downtown Edmonton Convention Centre offers more than 150,000 sf of space, and 2,900 hotel rooms within walking distance. The facility received a Venue Excellence award from the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) that recognized the Convention Centre as one of North America’s top-five performing public assembly venues.
The JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District opened earlier this year, one of only three JW Marriott branded hotels in Canada. It will be the centerpiece of the $3 billion ICE District project, Edmonton’s newest downtown neighborhood. The ICE District is a 25-acre development combining residential condos, a public plaza, sports and entertainment venues, 300,000 sf of retail space and 1.3 million sf of office space, all within walking distance to the Edmonton Convention Centre.
“The 54-story JW Marriott is helping to boost Edmonton’s image and attract international investors as part of the massive ICE District development,” says Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. The hotel’s guest rooms and meeting spaces, including the Wayne Gretzky Ballroom, occupy the first 22 floors of the tower. Across the street is Rogers Place, a multiuse sports and entertainment arena with a seating capacity of 18,500 as a hockey venue and 20,734 for concerts. The JW Marriott, along with the Stantec Tower next door, are key parts of the ICE District’s first phase, now three-quarters completed.
The Westin Edmonton is also downtown, directly connected to the Convention Centre. Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, a city landmark since 1915, overlooks the North Saskatchewan River Valley, offers diverse meeting space, an outdoor terrace and is a four-minute walk to the Convention Centre.
The Edmonton EXPO Centre offers more than 522,000 sf, the largest meeting venue west of Toronto. The building integrates high-tech features with flexible, indoor space for trade and consumer shows, conferences and special events. It provides four exhibit halls, a grand ballroom and a conference and catering service.
Calgary offers more than 13,000 hotel rooms, providing planners with a wide choice of accommodations, and several MICE properties in the downtown core, conveniently located near the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC).
The CTCC connects directly to three hotels totaling more than 1,000 rooms by using the city’s “Calgary +15” — a series of enclosed and connected walkways 15 feet above the ground. It is the world’s most extensive pedestrian skywalk network, includes 59 bridges and links dozens of buildings in downtown Calgary, including the CTCC.
Three downtown hotels are connected to the CTCC via this unique above-ground walkway: Hyatt Regency Calgary, Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel and the Fairmont Palliser. Other hotels that can accommodate groups in the city include Delta Hotels Calgary Downtown, Hotel Arts, and The Westin Calgary.
The Calgary Stampede is a world-class, year-round gathering place in the heart of the city. As a not-for-profit community organization that celebrates western heritage, the venue’s meetings and conventions team has more than 100 event staff, including caterers and A/V professionals, who work with planners. Some of the event spaces on the Stampede grounds include the Nutrien Western Event Centre, a 150,000-sf agriculture showcase and competition venue; the Big Four Roadhouse, named for the four businessmen who founded the Stampede; the BMO Centre, the size of six football fields; and the historic Stampede Corral.
Last year, the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing gathered in Calgary, the third time this organization met in Canada. Previous Canadian conferences were held in Vancouver and Montréal.“We chose Calgary for several reasons. The combination of suitable facilities for a large conference of about 2,200 participants, as well as the flexibility of the hosting organizations, the ability of the hosting group to accommodate special needs, costs and the desirability of the city,” says Jay Lightfoot, executive officer of Conference Management Services Inc. “Calgary scored very high in each of these categories, and our expectations were exceeded.”
Lightfoot liked the TELUS Convention Centre because of the proximity to several hotels. “We ended up using the Marriott Downtown, the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown, the Fairmont Palliser, Best Western Calgary Centre City, as well as the Hotel Arts, a 10-minute walk from the Convention Centre,” Lightfoot says.
“We used the Convention Centre for most of our events, as well as the Calgary Stampede for our banquet night,” Lightfoot says. “Our experience with Canada in general, and Calgary specifically, was fantastic. Canadian hosts were easy to work with, as were all the local and provincial agencies we worked with. All the folks we dealt with in Calgary were flexible and willing to help us.”
Because of various reasons, they had to move the conference from an overseas location just six months before the scheduled dates, “ … unheard of with a conference this size,” Lightfoot says. “We were somewhat concerned that people would not be willing to travel to Calgary because it does not have a well-established reputation as a conference destination. It turned out that many people had never been to Calgary, although most had heard of it. Thus, many people were curious and wanted to attend to see the city, and our actual attendance exceeded our expectations.”
Once there, the attendees at the Calgary conference had a great time. “They really got into the culture of the city and appreciated the warmth and hospitality of the people,” Lightfoot says. “The food at the Convention Centre was also very good, and the conference was a great success. One small note, the conference banquet normally has about 350-400 attendees, and in Calgary we held the banquet at the Calgary Stampede’s ‘Big Four Roadhouse’ venue, where we ‘white hatted’ the attendees by giving out about 750 traditional cowboy hats to the banquet attendees, a record attendance for our conference banquet.”
Calgary is listed high on The New York Times Best Places to Visit in the 2019 list, and meeting planners will be adding the city’s new Central Library, a spectacularly designed building to their off-site venue list. It is situated next to Studio Bell, home to the National Music Centre museum and performance space.
Last year Vancouver experienced one of the busiest MICE events year in its history, with 32 large citywide meetings on the books, and dozens of smaller conferences and events. The Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) is the city’s premier exhibition and conventions facility. With its harbor-front location and stunning views, the VCC offers a beautiful setting, and the addition of the West Building in 2009, with its 6-acre Living Green Roof, enabled the VCC to reach 466,500 sf of meeting, exhibition and ballroom space. Along with the VCC’s East Building, located in Canada Place, which it shares with a cruise ship terminal and the Pan Pacific Vancouver hotel, the VCC is the world’s first double LEED Platinum certified convention center.
Vancouver has a number of established hotels that association and convention groups enjoy, including the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, Pan Pacific, Fairmont Waterfront, Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, Fairmont Pacific Rim, Rosewood Hotel Georgia and the Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver. The residual effects of the 2010 Winter Olympics, along with the city’s booming cruise ship industry and exceptional cuisine, as well as its “green” reputation, has resulted in Vancouver hosting a record of more than 10 million visitors annually, with Vancouver International Airport (YVR) adding more than 20 new routes.
“Our conference held earlier this year used more than 10 hotels in Vancouver,” says Leslie Zeck, CMP, CMM, HMCC, director of meetings for the International & American Associations for Dental Research. “We have been well-supported by the CVB and hotel partners in our advance planning, including assistance in setting up our site visits, marketing support, information about customs and border control, and off-site venue options. We view this collaboration by the local city suppliers and venues as a true partnership while we worked in concert to organize an international convention for more than 6,000 delegates who attended from across the globe.
Regarding Vancouver’s many amenities and the ease of communicating with her local contacts, Zeck continues, “I cannot think of any other convention destination that checks all of the boxes like Vancouver does. After planning meetings all across the globe, I can say that organizing a meeting in Vancouver allows everyone to breathe easier. Using the city as a destination is the formula for success.”
Zeck chose the Fairmont Waterfront as the convention headquarters hotel, along with other properties for attendee accommodations.
The newest accommodations and meeting venues in Vancouver can be found at Parq Vancouver, a mixed-use downtown “resort destination” project built to meet LEED gold standards. Located next to BC Place sports arena, Parq’s three towers also contain the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and the DOUGLAS, Autograph Collection hotel. Both hotels provide guests with convenient access to JW Marriott Parq Vancouver’s wide range of entertainment amenities, including downtown’s only casino, eight restaurants and lounges, a 30,000-sf, tree-filled elevated park located six floors above street level, a Spa by JW and a modern fitness center. JW Marriott Parq Vancouver also includes an additional 60,000 sf of meeting and event space, 13 boardrooms and the 15,000-sf Parq Grand Ballroom, the largest hotel ballroom in Vancouver. | AC&F |