By putting a focus on technology and artificial intelligence, Canada is connecting its many cities and bringing its story to the world at large. Business Events Canada’s Executive Director Chantal Sturk-Nadeau (below left) and Director of Business Development Virginie de Visscher (below right) speak to CMW‘s Iain Stirling during London Tech Week.
CMW: How have things progressed, on the technology side of things in particular, since London Tech Week last year and your ‘Innovate Canada’ event in Montreal?
Last year was technology. London Tech Week (LTW) was our first event, so after that there was a continuation of a deeper dive into tech on what we achieved.
All the rest is about building six other profiles of sectors – Canada’s aerospace industry, Canada’s natural resources, etc. So, those deep dives, that knowledge of Canada that you’re seeing right now (technology, life sciences) is a display of each sector.
We have some very good wins out of technology – the biggest being the World Summit AI, and that came from exhibiting at LTW last year.
VdV: The World Summit AI is organised by British company Inspired Minds. We connected at LTW last year and worked with the High Commission for Canada in London. They were looking to expand on their European operations and launch a North American version of the show. We were competing against the US and we showed them why AI is really strong in Canada and why we would be the best hosts. We invited them to Canada, they visited both Toronto and Montreal and were shown the strength of our AI ecosystem. They ended up choosing Montreal and booked a four-year event. They had their launch event in April this year with 1,000 attendees. We’re building a case study with them to showcase how that worked and they’re looking to grow that within four years to 6,000 people. A true success story that came out of the tech sector focus and being at LTW.
Last year it was just the two of us at LTW; this year we have five cities partnering.
CSN: As a national tourism organisation, we’re also working very closely with our invest agency, Invest in Canada. This doesn’t happen in many parts of the world. They lean on us, too, to find out how they can help. We share leads and opportunities whether it’s for business events, to trade, to invest and how do those business events become a catalyst for future trade and investment.
Now we have a sizeable booth with Invest in Canada at LTW. We have presented to a full house every day. Some were tech companies looking for investment or something of that sort, but ended up going, ‘Yes that makes sense, how do we bring our convention to Canada and take that next step’.
So, we’re still going to work the technology strategy, but now in 2019 we’ve introduced life sciences.
VdV: So, at this year’s Innovate Canada, we tried to attract international C-Suite executives from corporations and associations within life sciences. To attract them we worked with Global Affairs Canada and our counterpart from the Economic, Development, Trade and Investment Agency to work with Canadian embassies worldwide and the corporations they deal with to identify which ones could hold meetings and events in Canada (priority No. 1) and (priority No. 2) who could also potentially be mature for trade and investment. All 15 clients that came were really open to both propositions. Each city at Innovate Canada was represented by both the convention bureau and a life science expert in trade and investment. It was more of an equal opportunity on both sides.
CMW: Canada seems to be leading the way in defining its vertical markets and promoting them for conferencing.
CSN: Other countries do have similar strategies. Look at the size of Canada, in one year Virginie has connected with 23 key Canadian cities that has a strength in those seven sectors. When looking at Canada, international organisers only really knew about Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – three cities. Now 20 other cities fit in our seven sectors – all of them are raising the bar, embracing the strategy and asking how they can jump on board and how can they participate. We haven’t had one city that has not wanted to get involved or say they can’t.
We continue to build on Innovate Canada, which is now our signature event, and next year it’s going to be in St John’s, Newfoundland and focusing on natural resources. This will be in the first week of September 2020. It will be at the same time as the World AquaCulture Conference. We always align Innovate Canada with a major event relevant to the sector we’re promoting.
VdV: But, in a broad sense, so when we talk natural resources, we’re talking agriculture and fisheries to marine biodiversity, to ocean technology, to shipyards, shipbuilding, offshore oil and gas, marine transportation, etc. Anything oceans-related within natural resources. All our partners will be coastal cities with a centre of excellence within this industry.
Saskatoon was at the recent Innovate Canada event on life sciences. When you talk about vaccines, Saskatoon has a place at the table. Compared to the very large cities, Saskatoon doesn’t feel like a smaller city, it feels like an equal partner when talking within that sphere.
CMW: Are organisers now looking at more than just the venue and the destination?
VdV: Oh, yes. For example, the Protein Summit. Bridge2Food is an organisation from the Netherlands and they are very interested in Protein superclusters. They’re organising two events this year – in June and July this year and they’re in Calgary and Saskatoon. The supercluster initiative is more than just investing money; it is about doing business differently – about leveraging strengths to drive innovation, overcome barriers and explore new opportunities. By creating more value-added processing opportunities in Canada, the idea is to generate new companies, products, processes, services, and jobs.
CMW: What about the city’s infrastructure outlook for the future?
CSN: Canada, over the last 5-8 years, has invested a lot into its infrastructure. We’re not worried about any of the 23 cities. We’re not worried about any infrastructure gaps from convention centres to hotels to venue to arts and culture museums. All our destinations are well equipped and have state of the art venue facilities. Halifax has a new convention centre, Winnipeg’s doubled in size, and Calgary is doubling its size over the next couple of years, etc.
CMW: And what about air lift?
CSN: There are still issues or gaps with bringing more carriers into Canada, but that’s a government issue. There is fairly strict regulation. We do have more flights and seats, more times a day. Halifax has increased its airlift considerably.
London maybe does not realise how close it is to the east coast of Canada. It’s only a five hour flight – direct.
We want to continue investing in our strategy and this includes staff. We have representatives worldwide, from London to five representatives in the US (New York, Texas, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington) and we’re opening an office next year in China, India and Mexico.
Each office will have representatives that will be proactive in selling corporate meetings and incentive travel. We’ll also have specialists in our sectors. They will then target business and events related to the sectors with a view to bringing them to Canada, matching them with a specific destination.