When it comes to highly efficient and effective meetings and event spaces, convention centres are a big deal. With the overall impact from the events held at Canada’s member convention centres exceeding $2 billion each year, there is little question that these gargantuan facilities hold major sway in the country’s meetings and events industry.
According to the Convention Centres of Canada, the association’s 19 member centres collectively host over 7,000 meetings, conventions, exhibitions and related events every year. Of these, slightly more than half are meetings, about one-third are social events, while conventions and consumer trade shows make up the remainder. In addition, these facilities employ well over full- and part-time 2,500 staff.
“In addition to economic and employment benefits, our members also promote education and professional development, support trade and investment initiatives, create showcases for local products and services and enhance the business profile of their respective destinations,” says the association.
For corporate meeting and event planners, the benefits of hosting an event at a convention centre are numerous, from receiving expert support from the on-site planning staff to obtaining help with everything from audio-visual requirements to food and beverage needs.
“Convention centres have a specialty: planning events,” explains Lynn Chiasson, acting director of sales for the Centre des Congrès (Convention Centre) de Québec in Québec City. “Convention centre staff are there to exclusively guide and help clients execute their planning needs. That, right there, is personalized service at its best!”
“Aside from flexibility in size and space, event planners can be comforted by the fact that everything is under one roof – whether it is meetings, meals, or tradeshows,” says Bin Lau, director of communications for the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, which oversees Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. “They have access to one-stop shopping for integrated services, backed by experienced and knowledgeable in-house suppliers who are focused on their event, like audio-visual, display, power and lighting needs.”
Denise Tacon, general manager, of the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, says her facility’s unique and connected partnerships often help to exceed client expectations.
“At the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, we focus on conference-specific details that other venues may not have the same expertise on,” explains Tacon. “The biggest benefit is that clients can directly liaise with tourism partners providing them municipality access, city infrastructures and technology benefits.”
One of the other major advantages of convention centres is that they offer endless flexibility when planning an event. Compared to smaller, single-function venues, convention centres are able to move large volumes of people quickly and efficiently from huge plenary sessions to more intimate breakout rooms within a single facility.
“Because convention centres have so much space, it gives the client the flexibility to grow their event, and we offer a wide variety of event space from small to very large,” says David Chizda, director of sales and marketing at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. “Convention centres were built to handle large volumes and the flow of people is very efficient. Many event planners feel their events are too small to take to a convention centre, but the fact is we can host a meeting for five to 5,000 people.”
For the environmentally-minded, many facilities have also taken on a leadership role in green meetings and sustainability.
“Canadian convention centres have particularly high standards regarding the quality of their installations and customer service,” says Lynn Chiasson. “A number of them, including the Québec City Convention Centre, have been recognized with the International Association of Convention Centre (AIPC) Apex Award and LEED certifications. With sustainability being a great concern, by selecting a convention centre with eco-friendly practices, clients are already making a wise choice.”
While most planners are aware of many of the above benefits, there are also a few misconceptions when it comes to conventions centres. With the increased need for internet access due to the proliferation of social media apps and interactive meeting technology, for example, many centres have expanded their services accordingly.
“In our case, we offer complimentary wired and wireless internet,” says Erin Blanchard, director of sales for the Fredericton Convention Centre. “Meeting planners often anticipate this to be an additional and costly add-on.”
The perceived overall cost of holding events in a convention centre is another area where planners may be misinformed, according to some facility managers.
“The Shaw Conference Centre is an example of why event planners should consider a convention centre and put aside their misperceptions,” says Bin Lau. “We are flexible in rental costs. We host events large and small. Our quality of service is top-notch based on our customers’ testimonials and repeat business for a wide range of events.”
Chiasson agrees, adding: “The biggest misconception is that convention centres are impersonal and expensive. The impact of professional service and experience versus cost is underrated. Choosing a convention centre can have a positive and professional result on events.”
Despite their past and ongoing success, it is clear that the convention centres are not about to rest on their laurels, with increased investment and extensive renovations taking place at several facilities, including the Winnipeg Convention Centre, which will soon be going through a significant transformation.
“The new facility, estimated to be over $180 million, will include multi-purpose divisible space, additional underground parking and main-floor public assembly space,” David Chizda explains. “The third floor will feature new exhibit space that will connect to the existing building and create over 147,000 square feet of contiguous, pillar-less tradeshow space.”