After only a few days in Vancouver you’ll be so full of superlatives to describe the city as a meeting site, you won’t know where to start. So put it simply: Choosing Vancouver is a no-brainer.
Easy to Meet
A group of association meeting managers got the inside story as part of a “Behind the Scenes” tour of the city in April, hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Vancouver. “This gave all of us a chance to sample a few of the many things Vancouver has to offer, such as the delicious foods, the diversity of groups that contribute to Canadian culture, and the beauty of the parks and the landscape,” says Penny Pina, CMP, director of meetings and conferences for the American Mathematical Society in Providence, R.I.
The group also had a chance to hear about how the city does a lot of your planning work for you. Want a green convention? Done. The new West building of the Vancouver Convention Centre is the only Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified convention center in the world. That was a big takeaway for Cynthia Smith, CMP, senior manager, and meeting services, with the American Society of Civil Engineers. "Sustainability is very important to many members of our society," she says.
Want to show delegates the city? Point them out the convention center door and they’re steps from the artsy and historic enclave of Gastown, 1,000 acres of trees and trails in Stanley Park, the second-largest Chinatown in North America, plus endless shopping and dining.
No time to let them out for neighborhood exploration? They’ll still get a sense of place: The convention center’s walls of windows—even in the ballroom—keep the city’s iconic mountain peaks and harbor always in view. And its thoughtful décor evokes the industries of the province of British Columbia: gorgeous wood blocks on the walls are hemlock and fir from a sustainable forest; other areas are covered with shiny aluminum as a nod to the province’s aluminum mining; soundproofing curtains in the ballroom are made of a fabric colored in rich copper—another natural resource; and artwork throughout is by local artists of local scenes.
Easy to Stay and Eat
Choosy about hotels? You’ve got 13,000 rooms at four- and five-star properties within easy walking distance of the convention center. And you can get to three of them without even going outside, so there go your worries about rainy days.
With so many high-end hotels in the neighborhood, in fact, notes Diana Reid, sales manager at the Vancouver Convention Centre, the center had to “up the ante” with its own food and beverage. Under the direction of Executive Chef Blair Rasmussen, the kitchen serves fresh and locally sourced food; avoids pre-packaged goods; uses metal cutlery, china, glass, and cloth napkins; serves nearly all condiments in bulk or reusable containers; and offers wines exclusively from British Columbia vineyards.
Easy to Ship
Not keen on the hassles of international shipping? Whatever you (and your exhibitors) ship across the border comes in tax- and duty-free and clears customs in your meeting room.
You read that right. There’s no “stuck in Customs” in Canada. If there are paperwork problems to be resolved, they are resolved while you’re unpacking your boxes on site and getting your program under way. These privileges apply as long as your convention meets three requirements: No more than 25 percent of attendees can be from Canada (got 35 percent Canadian attendance? Ask anyway); your headquarters office must be outside of Canada; and you must not advertise your event to the public in Canada. “The government’s role is not to stop business from taking place. The government’s role is to encourage business,” says Paul Griggs, vice president, business development, for Events on the Move, a Vancouver-based customs broker and freight forwarder specializing in the meetings industry.
Griggs advises applying to the Canadian government for recognition of your qualification for the International Events and Convention Services Program’s special shipping deal at least six months in advance of your program, and pitching it as a benefit to exhibitors. To simplify things even more, hire a customs broker to apply on your behalf and manage the entire process. If you hire a broker who is also a freight-forwarder, there’s not much left for you to do except pack the boxes.
Easy to Fit
The convention center’s new West Building, which opened in May 2009, is part of the legacy of Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In combination with the existing convention center (a glass-walled corridor connects the two), you’ve got 471,000 square feet of space available, including 300,000 square feet of exhibit space and 72 meeting rooms.
Because of input from meeting planners, the new building also includes nearly 150,000 square feet of pre-function space, full of natural light and casual seating. Groups also may use the ground-level outdoor courtyard (complete with Olympic flame) and a third-floor outdoor terrace. And the 53,000-square-foot Waterfront Ballroom has to be seen to be believed, with its 45-foot-high windows slanting dramatically outward from floor to roof and offering an incredible panorama across English Bay to the mountain peaks against the sky.
One of the center’s most notable features is its green roof, with 400,000 indigenous plants, irrigated with recycled rainwater. “It keeps the heat of summer out and the heat of winter in,” Reid notes.
“The Canadian Tourism Commission’s Behind the Scenes program was part of an ‘afterglow’ strategy to leverage the 2010 Winter Games and the G8/G20 Summit held in Canada,” says Ava Sones, director, insurance market development and special projects, at the CTC. “Our goal was to provide professional development experiences for top clients to underscore Canada’s capability to host multifacetedevents by holding the Behind the Scenes programs in conjunction with an international festival or event.”
The first program was held in Vancouver and Whistler, and coincided with the 2010 Paralympic Games. Others were held alongside such events as the Banff Film Festival and the Québec Winter Carnival.
“The final Behind the Scenes program was held where it began, in Vancouver,” Sones notes. “For this program, we had a unique opportunity to bring together association executive directors and their meeting planners for a shared learning experience during the TMA Software Users Group Meeting, held at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. Our hope is that the planners took away innovative ideas for their meetings by looking at partnerships with their suppliers and within their industry.”