The New Wave for Meetings Atlantic Canada is becoming a big fish in the Conference Industry

Just hours away from some of North America’s largest urban hubs, yet a world away from ordinary, Atlantic Canada is distinguishing itself as a major player in today’s international meeting and conference industry.

Boasting a distinct maritime culture, ample facilities, year-round events and a convenient location, the region is booming as planners and delegates embrace a tight-knight community that delivers a meeting experience like none other.

“The uniqueness of Atlantic Canada and what it has to offer, that is the draw,” says Dan Melesurgo, executive director of meetings, conventions and incentive travel sales for the Canadian Tourism Commission.” Places like Saint John or P.E.I. are really spectacular locations that are very unique within North America.”

Perhaps even more spectacular is the metamorphosis the region has undergone in the last decade, say experts. No longer limited to convention centres and hotels, the Atlantic Canadian meeting and convention market has caught the attention of all venue providers — thus giving the meetings hosted in the area that distinct flavor.

“Certainly, some of our more non-traditional facilities such as museums and waterfront warehouses are starting to understand the value of the meetings industry, as we’re seeing that they are working with their structures to make them more meeting friendly,” says Kristi Wenaus, director of sales and partnerships for the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.

More and more planners are looking for something different. Groups no longer just want to stay huddled in a generic room with four walls and no windows for the day. The overall experience of the day is starting to dominate the decisions for meeting planners. And while new technology like teleconferencing remains prevalent in the meetings industry, Atlantic Canada is proof that nothing beats networking with peers in a location that leaves a lasting impression, says Nina Kressler, vice-president of sales and marketing for the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax.

“Whether gathering over a bowl of steaming mussels at a waterfront pub, or during a coffee break during a general session, face-to-face communication and connecting is important,” she says.

 

Nova Scotia

Home to the region’s largest city, Nova Scotia is gaining favor among national and international meeting planners and delegates who are seeking easy accessibility to “Canada’s Ocean Playground.”

And with some of Atlantic Canada’s largest meeting spaces just steps away from a number of world-class attractions, historic sites as well as a lively night life, it’s not hard to understand why.

“From our history to our culture to our proximity and connection to the sea Nova Scotia is truly unique,” says Wenaus.

Accessibility is one reason why many planners and delegates are choosing Nova Scotia. The Halifax Stanfield International Airport, the largest in Atlantic Canada, welcomes more than 3.4 million passengers annually, including direct flights from Boston, New York, Washington, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.

Many delegates are also taking advantage of a state-of-the-art ferry service (catferry.com) between Yarmouth, NS, and Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine. The approximate cruising time aboard one of the high-speed ferries can take as little as three hours, and cost as little as $69 for adults. It also increases pre- and post-meeting visits as delegates and their families explore the region.

“Being a coastal province affords us the opportunity to appeal to the adventurer and, yes, the romantic in everyone,” says Patricia Lyall, president and chief executive of Destination Halifax.

Planners, meanwhile, are treated to a buffet of flexible meeting and convention spaces that run the gamut of boardrooms to banquet halls.

The Halifax area alone boasts more than two dozen sites to choose from that offer in excess of 1.2 million square feet of meeting and convention space. That includes a diverse setup ranging from harbor-front reception halls and multi-function breakout rooms, to 40,000-plus-square-foot convention spaces that can accommodate more than 4,000 delegates.

Located in the heart of Halifax and a stone’s throw away from the historic waterfront is the World Trade and Convention Centre (wtcchalifax.com). Overlooking the downtown core, the centre is well-situated within the meetings market with more than a dozen meeting rooms that include a 20,000-square-foot ballroom and multi-functional spaces that can accommodate up to 3,000 people for banquets and receptions.

“Whether we serve a banquet for 50 or 1,500, you can rest assured that the result is that of a 4.5-star product,” says Kressler.

The centre is also connected to more than 1,000 of downtown Halifax’s 3,000 guest rooms, as well as an additional 100,000 square feet of meeting space, shopping, dining and entertainment options. It is also fully integrated with the 10,000-seat Halifax Metro Centre, the crown jewel of Halifax’s sport and entertainment scene.

Outside of the boardroom, there is plenty for delegates and their families to enjoy in a city that regularly pays tribute to its colonial roots.

“Halifax has a mystique which draws attendees to a conference,” says Kressler. “The waterfront charm, the historic pubs and most importantly, the maritime hospitality is unique to this urban destination. Delegates leave with memories.”

Citadel Hill (pc.gc.ca), a former British stone fortress that rises over the city’s downtown, and the instantly recognizable town clock, a three-tiered, irregular octagon tower atop a building of classical Palladian proportions that opened in 1803, are centrepieces of a city steeped in tradition. Citadel Hill is among the most visited natural historic sites in Canada, while the town clock is a favorite photo op for many visitors.

Also nearby is the world-famous Halifax Harbour, which features a waterfront boardwalk that is more than four kilometres long, as well as the Victorian-style Public Gardens (halifaxpublicgardens.ca), which were formally established in 1867 and, spectacularly, have survived hurricanes and father time.

A little further down the path is Spring Garden Road (springgardenroad.com), a Bohemian-like street scene that features boutiques, bars and restaurants, and is one of the trendiest areas in Halifax.

There are nearly 200 bars and restaurants in pedestrian-friendly downtown Halifax, which represents the highest number per capita of any city in Canada.

“Unique experiences in unique locations that leave a lasting impression,” says Lyall. “The sentiment is somewhat of a mantra to our approach to not just business but life itself.

“It’s about authenticity and genuine hospitality. It’s about being part of creating an experience that results in memories of having had fun while learning.

 

New Brunswick

It doesn’t take much to understand why many meeting and conference professionals are hailing New Brunswick as one of the worst kept secrets in the industry.

Less than an hour flight from more than a dozen major Canadian and American urban centres, directly accessible through three major airports, and boasting a rich French and English maritime culture, Canada’s only officially bilingual province has thrived in recent years.

Pacing the province’s record growth in the meetings industry has been Saint John, which hosted more conventions and sporting events last year than anytime in the last decade, says Sally Cummings, convention officer for Tourism Saint John (tourismsaintjohn.com).

The city has hosted on average 284 meetings and sporting events that generate $32 million annually since 1998. Last year, that number rose to more than 375 — up nearly 80 from the previous year.

“Saint John is earning its title as New Brunswick’s convention capital on the Bay of Fundy, with several major developments, including four new hotels, a new airline, and shopping centre,” says Cummings, adding three new hotels have brought the total to more than 1,500 guestrooms city-wide.

In addition to having a number of meeting-friendly features such as the Inside Connection — an above-ground walkway system that links 450 guestrooms and more than 123,000 square feet of convention space to facilities like Harbour Station (harbourstation.nb.ca) and the Canada Games Aquatic Centre (aquatics.nb.ca) — Saint John’s true strength lies in its hidden gems.

The Victorian-inspired former Bank of New Brunswick building on historic Prince William Street is sure to leave an impression on groups of up to 120 delegates, while the newly restored Lily Lake Pavilion (lilylake.ca) has space for up to 400 seated.

Fredericton —  home to two universities, countless cultural attractions and a local ethnic culinary scene like no other — is also reaping the benefits of the province’s thriving meetings scene.

The capital city offers more than three dozen convenient meeting venues that boast more than 100,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, not including the soon-to-be-completed Fredericton Convention Centre, which will offer up to 30,000 square feet of exhibit space and a banquet room that can accommodate up to 1,000 delegates.

Delegates will also get that experience of a lifetime at any number of the Fredericton’s hidden gems, such as the nearby Kings Landing Historical Settlement (kingslanding.nb.ca), a bustling 18th century inn where guests “live” history.

Or the internationally recognized Beaverbrook Art Gallery (beaverbrookartgallery.org), where up to 100 delegates can celebrate in the company of an exquisite collection of British paintings from the Elizabethan era to the modern period, as well as Dali, Krieghoff and Gainsborough collections.

In Moncton, meeting planners have access to one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. The city offers more than 100,000 square feet of combined meeting and conference spaces attached to some 1,300 guest rooms through Tourism Moncton (gomoncton.com)

That includes the colossal Delta Beausejour (deltabeausejour.com), conveniently located in the city’s downtown core with the ability to accommodate up to 1,100 delegates in its 24,000 square feet of meeting space.

Outside of the meeting room, New Brunswick is able to tailor its product like none other in North America thanks to its rich French and English maritime culture.

In Saint John alone, there are plenty of off-site opportunities that will thrill delegates, including the beautifully restored 1913 Imperial Theatre (imperialtheatre.nb.ca), featuring musical and dramatic performances year-round, and is available as a dinner venue for up to120 people.

Delegates can also visit the Frye Festival (frye.ca) in Moncton, an annual bilingual literary celebration held in honor of world renowned literary critic Northrop Frye. The world-famous festival attracts noted writers and poets from around the world, and takes place in April.

And in the Moncton area, delegates can walk the ocean floor without going underwater at Hopewell Rocks (thehopewellrocks.ca) on the Fundy Coast, or visit the Fort Beauséjour national historic site (pc.gc.ca), a spectacular star-shaped fort overlooking the Bay of Fundy that was built by the French in 1751.

“Warm, maritime hospitality and a vibrant sophistication are converging to bring a sense of ‘urban chic meets East Coast charm,” summarizes Cummings.

 

Prince Edward Island

It’s not hard to understand why people are falling in love with a province that’s often referred to as the “Garden of the Gulf.”

Literally bursting at the seams with rolling hills, sandy beaches and pristine forests, Prince Edward Island is an area of unrivaled natural beauty.

And it’s one that many planners and delegates are finding is the perfect getaway for their next meeting or conference.

“We offer a tranquil setting surrounded by water and all things rural, yet we have all the sophistication available in a large city centre” says Jo-Anne Thomsen, director of meetings, conventions and incentive travel sales for the Prince Edward Island Convention Partnership (seasidesocial.com). “We offer the best of both worlds on P.E.I.”

With more than two dozen meeting facilities that can accommodate upwards of 5,000 delegates, P.E.I. specializes in flexible spaces that meet planners’ diverse needs.

The Charlottetown Civic Centre (civiccentre.pe.ca), for example, offers the largest meeting and convention space in the province — including a 2,000-square foot exhibition hall that’s the second-largest fixed single room east of Quebec — yet at the same time can tailor its product to accommodate intimate boardroom setups of less than 40 people.

For planners seeking that unique venue yet still in a convenient location, nearby Summerside is home to the Loyalist Lakeview Resort and Conference Centre (lakeviewhotels.com). The Victorian-style traditional country inn offers more than a dozen meeting rooms and banquet facilities, as well as more than 100 guest rooms, just steps away from the world-renowned Confederation Trail.

“Our brand, ‘Seaside Social – Prince Edward Island,’ accurately reflects the feeling Prince Edward Island projects as a meeting and convention destination,” says Thomsen. “It also differentiates us from our competition and exemplifies what meeting planners told us were our strongest assets — being by the sea, our social nature, and being an island.”

It appears to be working, as meetings and conferences in the province have a 10 to 15 percent higher delegate registration than most other provinces, says Thomsen.

Making that planning experience a little easier is the Prince Edward Island Convention Partnership. Offering a one-stop-shop for planners and delegates, the partnership’s membership includes dozens of meeting and conference facilities, accommodation providers, restaurants, retail venues and more.

The partnership also offers a convenient online RFP tool, as well as a “Come Early Stay Late” promotion in which planners can take advantage of a ready-made program tailored to delegates.

That can include golfing packages on any one of the province’s top-rated courses. P.E.I. has been ranked by Score Magazine, the Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail and Travel + Leisure magazine in recent years as one of the top golfing destinations in North America, with dozens of golf courses that take full advantage of lush greens and panoramic ocean views.

Visiting delegates can also delve into the province’s rich cultural history at any number of musicals, dinner theatres, historical tours and stages covering Celtic to jazz music year-round, as well as excellent galleries, specialty shops and product tours.

The Charlottetown Festival, which is hosted annually at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (confederationcentre.com) from late May to mid-October, is a highlight for many visitors. The festival features Canada’s longest-running musical “Anne of Green Gables”, as well as many other world-class theatre productions.

“Our exclusive offers for conference delegates’ pre- and post-vacation travel will help boost registration,” says Thomsen.

Even with its idyllic island setting, P.E.I. is easily accessible by land, sea and air. The province is connected to the mainland by the Confederation Bridge, a 13-kilometre engineering marvel that connects from New Brunswick.

The Charlottetown Airport also welcomes direct flights from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa (May 2008) and Toronto with connections worldwide, while Northumberland Ferries (peiferry.com) offers a relaxing 75-minute ferry service to and from Caribou, NS.

 

Newfoundland and Labrador

Known as “The Rock” to some, Newfoundland and Labrador is just a stone’s throw from what just might be the most unique meeting experience Atlantic Canada has to offer.

As big as Japan and more than three times the size of the Maritime Provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador cover more than 600,000 square kilometres of eclectic urban centres, lush farmland, barren rock and a coastline like none other in the world.

“Being an island, there are no accidental tourists here. You don’t stumble upon Newfoundland —  you make plans to visit,” says Brenda Walsh, meetings marketing specialist with the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

And with just the right balance between urban sophistication and unspoiled nature, many planners and delegates are factoring Newfoundland and Labrador into their plans.

“One thing that is often imitated but never duplicated is the unique experience in unique locations that St. John’s and Eastern Newfoundland has to offer,” says Kelly Finlay, director of sales and marketing for Destination St. John’s.

“Whether it’s a pub crawl on George Street, a boat tour watching whales and icebergs cross paths off our shores, or a tour of the rural regions of Eastern Newfoundland … all offer something different and unique for delegates to experience.

“These provide memories that last a lifetime and that is what conference delegates are looking for.”

Getting to Newfoundland is as easy as any other location in Atlantic Canada, with six airlines offering direct flights to St. John’s International Airport — the 10th busiest in Canada.

Once in Newfoundland, the toughest decision delegates will face is whether to take in an afternoon of whale watching anywhere along the 20,000 kilometres of coastline, or visit more than 300,000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness in Labrador, which includes the Torngat Mountains National Park and the abandoned Moravian settlement at Hebron.

Or visit any of the 10 national historic sites, which includes the small coastal battery at the edge of Quidi Vidi and learn about the historic military presence that surrounded the St. John’s area during the early 1800s.

Or … well, you get the picture.

“Newfoundland and Labrador is a destination that conjures up the new, different and unique opportunities for folks to come to the ‘Far East of the Western World’ and experience culture, heritage, music and food delivered in first-class facilities and served by the friendliest folk,” says Walsh.

St. John’s, the province’s capital and North America’s oldest English-founded city, welcomes the majority of meetings and conventions coming to Newfoundland and Labrador.

With a population of just over 100,000, St. John’s is a tight-knit community that prides itself on its level of service and customers’ satisfaction. Walsh says it’s not a coincidence that meetings in Newfoundland enjoy as much as a 15 percent increase in delegate attendance.

“Our people are our greatest ambassadors,” she says. “We are a hot destination these days probably because we deliver a higher-than-average delegate count for conference and meeting planners, and this destination delivers a first-class experience for delegates.”

The city has nearly three dozen meeting/accommodation providers that can host conventions in spaces of up to 22,000 square feet, receptions of nearly 1,800, or boardrooms for two to 80 delegates.

More than 85,000 square feet of meeting space and 1,000 hotel rooms are located in the downtown core alone, including the Delta St. John’s and the St. John’s Convention Centre (sjcc.ca). Combined, those two facilities provide more than 400 guest rooms and 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

Making sure every meeting in the city is a success is Destination St. John’s (canadasfareast.com). Partnered with Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, the organization provides one-stop shopping for venues, accommodations and off-site recreational opportunities.

Destination St. John’s also offers a comprehensive bid proposal process, which gives decision-makers a complete view of what St. John’s and Eastern Newfoundland has to offer.

“St. John’s is a destination like no other and we want to ensure all of our planners know what our destination offers,” says Finlay.

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