BY BRENDA ANDERSON
When I attended IMEX in Las Vegas this past fall, I was invited to the Meetings Mean Business press event where Bill McDermott, CEO of world-leading software company SAP, accepted the challenge to become an advocate for the meetings industry. It was no small feat to get someone from the C-suite to agree to encourage his fellow executives to use face-to-face events as primary tools for rallying customers and employees around business growth.
There was a lot of excitement in the room, and rightly so. The coalition has worked hard to make this happen. I know this from my own direct involvement: As CEO of SITE, I was a founding member of the task force formed in 2008 under crisis conditions when the industry had to defend its very existence.
Fast forward to today. After having fulfilled my dream of moving to Victoria three years ago, I’m now a proud permanent resident of Canada. I’m also still closely connected to the meetings and incentives industry through my role at the Victoria Conference Centre.
As a new Canadian, I’ve learned that our culture tends to downplay our wins. The successful initiatives in the meeting industry are no exception. Though there are always ways to improve, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge some of the excellent work that we have been doing—and in fact leading—in this area for many years.
For example, Canada has a National Meetings Industry Day (NMID). It was started over 17 years ago and still does not exist in the United States. In British Columbia, Sarah Lowis, the owner of Sea to Sky Meeting Management, and Claire Smith, the vice-president of sales and marketing at the Vancouver Convention Centre, along with leaders from across Canada, were instrumental in championing NMID. They recognized the importance of giving the meetings industry a voice and establishing its value before the crisis of 2008.
Claire and Sarah were (and still are!) leaders as were the planners and suppliers who worked on Canada’s first—and the industry’s first—economic impact study. Spearheaded by MPI Foundation Canada and the Business Events Industry Coalition of Canada, the Canadian Economic Impact Study became the model for the US coalition during the 2008 crisis.
Convention Centres of Canada is another great example of a productive forum where organizations come together to discuss key issues affecting the way they go to market. At a recent meeting it was agreed the biggest value of the gatherings is what we learn — from each other. Clearly, Canadians understand the power of collaboration.
As a new member of the Business Events Canada Advisory Committee, I am impressed by the way Canada has organized itself to go after business. Led by Michele Saran, the BEC’s sales efforts are aligned with its counterparts in the country’s trade division.
Despite its small budget, by focusing on the seven industries in which Canada is seen as being a “centre of excellence,” the BEC ensures meetings held here will be truly meaningful to both the attendee and the host country. We are more than just a destination. We add value by aligning them with people in government or within their industry to make their meetings more impactful.
I’m grateful for the “fresh eyes” with which I can see the tremendous strides Canada has taken. Meetings in Canada are big business. We know it. They represent over $6.1 billion dollars and 57,000 attributable jobs. And I can personally vouch for how grossly under-reported these stats are from my experience in the US where groups crossing the border are actively encouraged to say they are travelling for “personal” rather than “business” purposes in order to easily pass through customs.
Canada has much to be proud of in the arena of recognizing—and acting on—the economic impact of meetings. We may not do it with much pomp and ceremony, but this country has been on the forefront, quietly and effectively moving forward in the spirit of collaboration for many years.
This is one of the many things that I find so impressive: our esprit du corps. When Canada as a brand collaborates, it’s a very powerful thing. After all, it’s better to have the business somewhere in our country, than not have it here at all. And when we’re operating from that place, we can move mountains.
– Brenda Anderson is the director of sales and marketing for the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C.