Promoting Canada as a tourist destination is absurdly easy. When you have gems like the Rocky Mountains, Whistler ski resort and Lake Louise, which glows turquoise due to rock powder in the glacial water, word of mouth does most of the job.
Marketing Canada for business events, by contrast, takes a little more effort. The reputation of the country as a land for nature lovers has historically overshadowed the commercial message.
“We want to change the perception of Canada,” says Virginie De Visscher of Destination Canada’s Business Events, the state body tasked with boosting numbers for the visitor economy. “Yes, we are known for our incredible landscape, but we want people to know this is also the best place in the world for business events. That’s our focus.”
Fortunately, Canada offers a powerful proposition for events. Canada is a G7 economy and a leader in at least seven major sectors. It boasts world-class education, lavish facilities and Canadian hospitality is the stuff of legend.
However, the appeal of Canada runs a lot deeper. “Our cities each have their own unique specialism,” explains Ms De Visscher. “Take artificial intelligence. Canada is known as a hub for AI and each city focuses on a different area. You can go to Toronto or Montreal for deep-learning and machine-learning, Edmonton for reinforcement-learning, and Québec City specialises in applied AI. This is where practical applications, such as how traffic lights that are co-ordinated to help traffic flow and the police, are researched.”
Canada ought to be seen as the obvious choice for business events, large and small
A British company called Inspired Minds benefited from this when searching for a place to host a global summit on AI in North America. The brief was tough. It needed a location famous for AI to attract delegates. The venue needed to be large enough to host 6,000 visitors from across the planet. And it needed an X factor, somewhere with a cultural buzz.
Business Events Canada recommended a few destinations across Canada including Montreal. The city is home to 91,000 AI experts and some of Canada’s best startups, such as Element AI and Stradigi AI, as well as research divisions of Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung and Google. When DeepMind, the London company behind the self-learning AlphaZero chess engine, wanted an overseas research lab, it chose Montreal, partly to collaborate with McGill University.
Inspired Minds chose Montreal as the host and the inaugural event in April was a smash hit. “Inspired Minds signed a multi-year deal,” says Ms De Visscher. “Their goal is to triple in size to hold the largest AI summit in the world, in Montreal in 2020. They believe hosting their summit in a city like Montreal, which is bursting with AI expertise, is a prime destination where delegates can meet local experts, and is so much better than hosting it in an anonymous ballroom somewhere.”
Likewise, event planners will find a suitable home in a Canadian city.
Life sciences companies should look to the Québec and Ontario Life Sciences Corridor, the largest life sciences cluster in North America. Toronto, at the south end of the corridor, is where stem cells were discovered and now sees $1 billion invested each year in medical research. Ottawa is home to phenomenal regenerative medicine research and double-virus therapy for cancer, a major factor behind the International Mesothelioma Interest Group hosting their global conference there. The International Society of Paediatric Oncology is planning their 2020 conference in Ottawa.
On the west coast, Vancouver is an all-rounder, rated the best convention destination in North America, according to The Watkins Report survey of event planners. It ranked top for “most likely to recommend”, “secure destination”, “most helpful” and “great all-round convention city”. Beyond its natural attributes of mountains, ocean and abundant outdoor recreation for delegates to enjoy, the city is a leading centre in regenerative medicine, digital gaming and clean technology.
“The tier-two cities are also worth a look,” says Ms De Visscher. “The Winnipeg Convention Centre has had a $181-million renovation and can host up to 9,000 guests. Saskatoon is known for agriculture and biotech research along with infectious diseases vaccine research. Calgary is affectionately called the cowboy capital of Canada, but is a world-class centre in geomatics, kinesiology, clean tech and the industrial internet of things.”
The choice is so wide businesses may feel they will struggle to navigate the options. “We can help you,” says Ms De Visscher. “We will work with you to find the right city. Together with our partners on the ground, team Canada will help you find keynote speakers, sponsors, and put you in touch with local businesses, incubators and associations. We have one of the most robust support programmes anywhere in the world.
“Consider tier-two cities, or time your event in late autumn or spring, and costs can come way down,” she says. “For events in winter time, you can experience ice hotels and skate on rivers or canals in Winnipeg or Ottawa. It’s just magical.”
Canada ought to be seen as the obvious choice for business events, large and small. The fundamentals are terrific. An impact study by Oxford Economics ranks Canada as sixth most prosperous of world’s top fifty countries for business events.
“People have their perceptions and when they arrive, it completely changes,” says Ms De Visscher. “When you hold an event here, you’ll get to meet thought leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers and global businesses. We’ll help you meet the right people to match your growth agenda.”
She concedes that the lure of Canada’s tourism can only help: “You can come to Québec City for its strength in regenerative medicine and enjoy the charm of walking the cobbled streets of the Old Quarter. Or host a research event in Vancouver and enjoy Stanley Park.”
The message for planners considering Canada? Just come and explore.
To find out more please visit businesseventscanada.ca