Events in the age of disruption

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Credit: Stéphan Poulin

Montreal is a city in the midst of a boom. With its vibrant tech scene, bustling nightlife and well-earned reputation as a culinary mecca, Canada’s unofficial arts capital is teeming with culture and opportunity — and no one is feeling that positive vibe more than Robert Mercure, president and CEO of The Palais des congrès de Montreal.

This city is really breaking out,” the Montreal-native said. “I haven’t seen this kind of energy and appetite for our city since, frankly, Expo 67 and the ’76 Olympics. It’s truly a dynamic scene here and I’m thrilled and honoured to be part of it.”

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Well-known in the international tourism community, Mercure joined The Palais at the beginning of September when the unexpected opportunity fell into his lap. “From a Chateau to a Palais,” as he put it, Mercure decisively uprooted his family from Quebec City where he’d spent the previous 11 years as General Manager of the Fairmount Le Château Frontenac.

Mercure said he was instantly swept away by the renewed energy of his beloved hometown, which he attributes to the influx of high-tech start-ups in the artificial intelligence, neuroscience and aeronautics fields — the effects of which have bubbled beyond the accelerator hubs and penetrated the city’s entertainment and tourism sectors.

“Despite the pressures facing our industry, and so many industries today, things are going very well for the Palais,” he remarked. “In fact, it’s going so well, we are actively looking into the possibility of expanding. We see enormous opportunities ahead of us and a lot of interesting synergies with the tech sector.”

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The industry pressures Mercure is referring to stem from the very thing now feeding Montreal’s red-hot economy — technology. And while many sectors have been adversely impacted by technological disruption, history has shown that adaptability and foresight is key to any enterprise’s long-term survival.

“Gone are the days that having a nice product is all it takes to fill a space,” Mercure said of the transitioning meetings and events arena. “Clean carpets, good service and top-notch audio-video equipment are no longer sufficient when people can log into Webinars or catch a TedTalk from the comfort of their homes. They need to be enticed to travel. They need to be enraptured by an experience rather than talked-at in a room full of people. Sure, there will always be that element of speakers sharing their knowledge, but overall there will be a shift in how much of that content is delivered and received.”

To highlight his point, Mercure refers to “C2 Montréal,” an immersive three-day business conference attended by established and aspiring leaders of all industries. The conference provides an opportunity for attendees to connect, collaborate and “unlock creativity” in order to find actionable solutions to the challenges of our times.

“C2 provides an environment that really ignites creative thinking,” he said. “Technology is central to everything. Content is presented in ways that are relevant to how people will want to consume it in the future. This type of experience contributes to positioning our city as a bold city.”

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Credit: Festival de Jazz de Montréal

Facilitating an immersive experience: What’s next for The Palais

As a world-class event destination in the heart of downtown Montréal, The Palais des congrès has a reputation for delivering top-notch customer service. Since 1983, the celebrated centre has played host to more than 19 million people over the course of 7,600-plus events. But despite its lustrous history and continued global appeal, Mercure says the team will not be resting on its laurels; rather it will be steering the facility in a direction that takes new technology, innovation and strategic alliances with tech-sector start-ups to heart.

“What we’re talking about is the convention centre of the future,” he said. “A space that entices young people to come, connect and share ideas. So what does that space look like? Well, it could mean many things. A place that offers a full-sensory experience and shifts the meeting from a monologue to a dialogue. Content shared will be highly interactive — possibly involving touch, smell, sound, light. It will embrace partnerships and use social networks to drive participation and engagement.”

Mercure has seen a lot of changes throughout his profession, but nothing nearly as disruptive as what he is seeing today. With a degree in Hotel Asset Management from Cornell University in New York and Economics and Finance from the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics, he began his career with the Sheraton Group in Georgia and Washington, D.C. before opening and running his own restaurant in New Hampshire. He then went on to join Montréal’s Intercontinental Hotel, where he oversaw the establishment’s food and beverage operations, and afterwards, the luxurious Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. There, he played an active role in the development of the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth in Montréal and the Fairmont Monte Carlo as Hotel Manager before becoming General Manager of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.

“As much as we have more communication going on today, when you touch and feel and see and hear and smell, it’s a much stronger experience than just relying on visual or auditory,” he said of the changing sector. “Driving those kinds of experiences and supporting the creative sides of the partnerships delivering those experiences is the direction we are heading.”

In other words, the journey is set and motion, and with Mercure leading the way, The Palais will simply facilitate and keep pace with what is already happening around it. “We are like a platform — the link between Montréal and what’s happening downtown. We really want to be a hub of activity — a cultural centre that brings people together and keeps them in tune with the beat of the local community. The Palais will help drive the Montréal brand of creativity. By showcasing the local creativity, the innovators, researchers and scientists, we are effectively connecting all the dots, and when you do that, you wind up creating the convention centre of the future.”

To find out more about The Palais des congrès de Montréal and how it can facilitate your next meeting and event, please visit: www.congresmtl.com

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