June 1, 2012
At over 385 kilometres from the nearest international airport in Edmonton, the small town of Jasper, Alberta (population 5,000) may not seem like the most intuitive choice for corporate event planners. Travel is a definite consideration.
“The drive can be a little daunting,” acknowledges Laara Braz, event planner with the Canadian Home Builders Association – Alberta. However, as Braz has discovered since 2005, when she first began assisting with the organization’s annual conference, this has its benefits as well.
“We find that because people are a little more secluded when they get there, there is a lot of casual networking that occurs,” she explains. “There aren’t the influences and outside distractions of being in a major city.”
The association first held its annual conference at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the early 1970s, and has rarely strayed since. This year the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary, and has chosen Jasper once again as the destination for its milestone celebration.
With membership stretched across the province, some attendees will drive as many as seven hours for the event. But for some, says Braz, the drive itself is a much-anticipated part of the experience. Whether coming from the south via Calgary along the Icefields Parkway or west from Edmonton on the Yellowhead, those first views of the Canadian Rockies hewing into view from across the rolling plains leave visitors to the province breathless, setting the tone for an authentic mountain experience in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. When it comes to natural beauty, says Braz, “You can’t beat Jasper.”
Aside from the obvious natural appeal, there are other key benefits for hosts and planners. Seamless integration across conference events is critical for Braz, who is tasked with scheduling a two-day golf tournament, trade show, awards ceremony and gala dinner into one busy weekend for the conference’s 450 attendees. At the Fairmont everything can happen on site, among the 700 acres of alpine forest along the shore of Lac Beauvert, which also boasts Canada’s number one resort golf course (ScoreGolf Magazine).
And, says Braz, it may be a small mountain town but the professionalism is world class. “I found the service and expertise at the Lodge to be beyond my expectations. It’s the most welcoming atmosphere I’ve ever experienced,” she says.
Ken Kuzminski, president of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes that point. “We are a small town with big city facilities – conference and hotel space, dining, activities – that many small towns don’t have,” he adds. “When considering a big city versus Jasper, here you can make it a memorable experience.”
Rooms with a view
While the Fairmont boasts the largest hotel conference space at 26,520 square feet (across 17 rooms), the Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre (5395 square feet), six Mountain Park Lodge properties (Amethyst Lodge, Lobstick Lodge, Marmot Lodge, Pocahontas Cabins, Chateau Jasper and Pyramid Lake Resort) and Best Western Jasper Inn and Suites all offer their own distinct attractions and conferencing amenities. Or, depending on season and space requirements, a meeting or reception might take place next to the waters of a serene alpine lake at Pyramid Lake Resort or in the main lodge up at the ski hill at Marmot Basin. It’s all up to the planner and how creative they want to be.
The range of possible activities offered within Jasper National Park – skiing, golfing, hiking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, paddling, wildlife viewing and more – makes it easy for planners to add in all the little extras that enhance the delegate experience. Hélène Kenny, an event organizer for the Canadian Automobile Association, said of their experience hosting events in Jasper, “Each year the conference program gets better and expectations from the delegates continue to soar like the beautiful mountains that surround Jasper.”
With that in mind, perhaps the only word of caution for planners considering hosting an event in Jasper would be to take care not to raise expectations too high. Unless, like the Canadian Home Builders Association, you want to keep coming back year after year.