In 1975, when a major study was released proclaiming Montréal’s tourism potential, the idea of building a convention centre was born. Eight years later, the Palais des congrès de Montréal ushered guests through its doors and hosted its first international event: The 8th International Congress of Plastic Surgery, one gathering that helped build the city’s now thriving life sciences industry.
The Palais has been actively contributing to Québec’s international reputation ever since. This year, as the conference centre celebrates its 35-year anniversary, it looks back on 7,300 events, which have attracted more than 19 million participants from around the world. Over the years, it has generated $6 billion in revenue throughout the province, confirming Montréal as a premiere business and tourist destination. It has also received numerous accolades like the AIPC Gold Quality certification for convention centre excellence.
“The Palais quickly became a focal point for the city’s biggest gatherings,” says President and CEO Raymond Larivée. “These conferences could count on the seasoned professionals and remarkable support that helped shape our reputation over the years.”
New Industries. Global Events
Montréal’s transformation into a convention city began as soon as the Palais opened. By 1984, the centre was bringing in 35 conventions per year. Some of those events continue to return annually, such as the Journées dentaires internationales du Québec conference.
Other events during the ‘80s and ‘90s brought meaningful moments to the conference centre. While hosting the 5th International AIDS Conference, Montréal made headlines worldwide because it was one of the first events where people with HIV and AIDS publicly shared their experiences. The Palais was also a backdrop for the internet conference Inet ‘96, which was ahead of its time and helped push information technology to the forefront.
Luminaries from far and wide have also graced its meeting spaces, from the Aga Khan and the Dalai Lama, who presented a beginners workshop on Buddhist techniques, to U.S. President Barack Obama, who delivered a speech in front of 8,000 people last year. Michelle Obama’s presence was also a major event that drew in 10,000 people, the biggest crowd ever assembled in one room at the Palais.
“The event brought in the whole community—cultural, business and university, with 2,000 students invited by the Chamber of Commerce of Montréal,” says Larivée. “That immediately expanded the city’s educational and social importance.”
Montréal is also a city of knowledge and innovation, and the roster of conferences held at the Palais is supporting many burgeoning industries. According to Larivée, 32 per cent of convention business is health science, but the bulk of the other events are in sectors like aerospace, transport, financial education and natural resources.
World leading organizations in these fields are inspired by the city’s level of expertise, with its 1,500 research and development institutions and 200 research centres—the highest in the country. Members of the Ambassadors’ Club, created in 1985, also tout the city’s reputation among influential, global circles, another reason why the International Congress and Convention Association named Montréal the number one host city in North America for international meetings in 2016.
Just a few years ago, the Palais’ global reputation started to really kick in. In 2012, it hosted several conferences deemed marquee events in their respective sectors, like the World Cancer Congress and the International Polar Year Conference.
More recently, in 2017, the Palais hosted two major conventions on public transportation, an industry on the threshold of transformational change. Leaders flocked in from more than 100 countries to attend the UITP Global Transport Summit and talk about the future of mobility, while more than 6,000 delegates checked into the World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems.
“Montréal has many research centres and universities focused on artificial intelligence, technology and life sciences, and the conference was drawing in expert knowledge from around the world on new development of intelligent transport systems,” says Larivée.
Shaping the Palais Culture
Key events have shaped the values of the Palais itself, such as the 2005 United Nations Framework on Climate Change, which was followed by a vast scientific crowd from around the planet. That same year, the Palais earned BOMA Best certification for existing buildings, a sustainable accolade that would set the tone for years to come.
An expansion project completed in 2002 unveiled a more ultramodern, global-minded venue, but beginning in 2011, the Palais took further steps to push industry boundaries by greening its rooftops. It inaugurated the Urban Agriculture Lab (UAL) in 2016, a showcase for experimentation and promotion of the technologies and techniques in urban farming in Québec. Featuring the first urban rooftop vineyard and the world’s first in a northern climate, the UAL helps reduce heat islands and improve air quality—one reason why it won the 2017 AIPC Innovation Award.
Events at the Palais have also made it a more inclusive space. Employees learned basic sign language for the 14th World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf in 2003, and in 2008, adapted the meeting spaces to welcome 1,800 delegates with special needs to the 9th International Conference on Low Vision.
For the past 35 years, the Palais has become a socially responsible and sustainable gathering space for discovery and innovation. A dedicated staff exceeds event expectations and helps professionals and experts seize Montréal’s attractions, restaurants and festivals, which are all steps away.
“Montréal is a historical city with lots of European flavour,” says Larivée. “It’s multilingual and multicultural and the Palais is right downtown in the middle of it all.”
To learn more about the Palais des congrès de Montréal, visit congresmtl.com/en/.