Planning a meeting or incentive in Canada is a little trickier than it's been in the past, but there's still good reason to meet in our neighbor to the north. First the good news: Prices were expected to remain stable for U.S. travelers in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same time period in 2006, according to a report prepared for the Canadian Tourism Commission by the Conference Board of Canada late last year.
Proximity and outstanding air connections are other strong reasons to consider Canada, although these days that's somewhat tempered by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The first phase went into effect on January 23, 2007, requiring all travelers, including U.S. citizens, entering the United States from Canada via air to have a valid passport. The same will be true for travel by land and sea; at press time, the goal date for implementation is January 1, 2008.
“There's been a lot of concern about WHTI,” says Barry Smith, president and CEO of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, “but we're finding that groups seem to have digested the new rules better than we'd feared.”
The other issue of concern to groups was a move by the Canadian government to eliminate the rebate on all forms of the 6 percent Goods and Services Tax, both to groups and individuals. The change was proposed last September and would have eliminated the ability for meeting planners, exhibitors, and attendees to apply for a GST rebate on meeting space, audiovisual, hotel rooms, exhibit-related fees, and more. The change went into effect on April 1, with some aspects delayed until 2009 (if negotiated as part of aprior to April 1, 2007).
However the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and others jumped into action to try to stop the law. And they were successful, at least in part. At press time in mid-April, a new Foreign Convention and TourProgram is slated to be introduced that will reinstate the rebates, at least for conventions and tour operators. According to Chris Jones, vice president of public affairs for TIAC, although the budget was still to be voted on, there is every reason to expect the program will be passed, with the reinstatement of the rebate retroactive to April 1 of this year. There are currently no plans to reinstate rebates for meetings, incentives, and individuals. But, “it's our intention to lobby for the reinstatement for individuals down the road,” says Jones.
Most provinces also have their own provincial sales tax, and in Québec and Manitoba, these provincial taxes can still be rebated. Visit the Canada Revenue Agency Web site at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/visitors for more information about all tax rebates.
In addition to other advantages of meeting in Canada, the country has become a leader on thelandscape. When the Professional Convention Management Association met at the Toronto Convention Centre in January, it was the first “zero-waste” international convention held at the center, or anywhere in Canada for that matter. Since then Smith says they've hosted five more and currently have two additional ones on the books, with expectations of more in the future.
Although the Toronto center has long had a reputation for focusing on green efforts, zero-waste goes a step beyond “reduce, reuse, and recycle” with a focus on total elimination of waste. The PCMA event was able to divert from a landfill 98.5 percent of all the waste materials generated during the event, meaning that a total of more than 16 metric tons of waste was captured for recycling and composting, including organics, plastics, paper, metal, glass, textiles, wood, and other materials. To put it in perspective, official calculations from Turtle Island Recycling, a partner in the event, indicate that the efforts saved 57 trees, 75,000 liters of water, 39,310 kilowatt-hours of energy, 4,280 gallons of oil, 170 pounds of air pollutants, and 3,000 cubic feet of landfill space.
But Toronto isn't the only convention center placing a priority on such efforts in Canada. As part of its expansion, the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre is being constructed with the goal of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. “We won't have the LEED certification until the building is complete,” says Catherine Wong, VP of operations for the center, “but all the steps we are taking are in keeping with the goal of obtaining the certification.” Some of the environmental efforts include a six-acre “living” roof, seawater heating and cooling and on-site water treatment, and a fish habitat built into the building foundation. When completed in early 2009, the center will total almost 500,000 square feet, adding close to 340,000 square feet of new space immediately adjacent to the current center. In the meantime, the existing center was one of the first to receive the “Go Green” certification from the Building Owners and Managers Association for environmental best practices.
The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre has also been certified BOMA Go Green in recognition of its efforts in building operations, such as compact fluorescent lighting and variable-speed escalators, along with a sophisticated computer-controlled heating and cooling systems.
All told, there are nearly 20 full-scale convention centers throughout Canada. Among the largest are:
Metro Toronto Convention Centre: 564,000 square feet, 64 meeting rooms
Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre: 474,000 square feet, 72 meeting rooms when expansion is complete in 2009
Montréal Convention Centre: 334,500 square feet, 59 meeting rooms
Québec City Convention Centre: 228,000 square feet, 33 meeting rooms
Winnipeg Convention Centre: 160,000 square feet, 26 meeting rooms
Calgary TELUS Convention Centre: 132,000 square feet, 35 meeting rooms
Americans will find no great surprises in doing business with Canadians, who tend to operate similarly to Americans in terms of response time, formality, and. A rental fee may be applied for a hotel meeting room, but it's often negotiable, depending on the size of the room block, food and beverage needs, equipment needs, and so on.
Just as there might be subtle differences between doing business in New York versus doing business in Los Angeles, there are some underlying differences among the regions in Canada. On the whole, as here, doing business tends to be more formal in the larger cities and more casual in the resort areas, such as Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta; and Whistler, B.C.
Although Canada is just next-door, planners should be aware that shipping might take considerably longer than anticipated as items go through customs. If you must ship, working with a customs broker is advisable, but also consider purchasing supplies, gifts, and printed materials once in Canada. In addition to the savings on shipping, duty, and possibly a customs broker, the favorable exchange rate could make for significant savings if the items are purchased in Canada. See box on working with freight forwarders, page 26.
Groups should contact the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (www.cra-arc.gc.ca/menu-e.html) to register an event three months in advance, which will then assign a convention coordinator to work with the planner to expedite customs.
There are numerous direct flights from cities in the U.S. to the major hubs, such as Vancouver International Airport; Toronto's Pearson International Airport, the largest in the country; and Montréal-Dorval, the gateway to Québec, on many carriers, including Air Canada, the nation's flagship carrier. Other cities with direct flights from the U.S. include Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Ottawa, Ontario; Québec City; and more.
Airlines are making it easier to get to Atlantic Canada this year. Two airlines added flights recently, and two more carriers will add seasonal service this summer. Now six international airlines offer daily service to the four provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Detroit.
Americans sometimes have unrealistic views about distances to cities in Canada, and between Canadian cities. For example, from Washington, D.C., to Montréal is less than a two-hour flight. But from Montréal to Vancouver is a five-hour flight. A sampling of common pairings includes:
New York to Toronto (one to two hours), New York to Montréal (one hour), New York to Vancouver (seven to eight hours)
Chicago to Toronto (one to two hours), Chicago to Montréal (one to two hours), Chicago to Vancouver (five to six hours)
Los Angeles to Toronto (five hours), Los Angeles to Montréal (six to seven hours), Los Angeles to Vancouver (two to three hours)
Ontario, Québec, and the Maritimes
Eastern Canada is site of many of the larger cities that appeal to conventions and incentives, such as Montréal, Québec City, Toronto, and Ottawa, and the resort areas in Niagara Falls, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Because the cities are so close to each other, it's easy to do split programs, allowing the groups to tap into the theater and nightlife of Toronto, for example, followed by a couple days in the French-flavored Montréal or Québec City, or combining a mountain region like Tremblant with the thrill of Niagara Falls and the serenity of the surrounding vineyards.
Highlights in Toronto, Canada's largest city, include top-notch theater productions, world-class shopping districts such as Yorkville and Queen Street West where the exchange rate allows American money to go further, and wineries, along with special events venues like the Hockey Hall of Fame where groups of up to 1,000 can celebrate alongside the Stanley Cup.
In Québec province, both Montréal and Québec City provide groups with an international ambience close to home. Montréal combines a French flair with modern style and is known for its award-winning cuisine, dynamic arts, and hopping nightlife. Groups can tap into festivals that take place throughout the year, from jazz to film, as well as hold special events at sites like the mountaintop Chalet Mont Royal or the historic Windsor rail station. The exchange rate allows groups to enjoy top-quality meals and events at significantly less cost than in the United States.
The Niagara Falls region features first-class meeting hotels and a renowned wine region that is home to more than 50 world-class wineries. The area's culinary expertise is highlighted by its agricultural heritage and regional cuisine. Add to that its casinos and Niagara Falls experience, and you've got a winning destination.
Québec City, too, retains its European sensibilities and charm along with modern facilities. The only fortified city north of Mexico, Québec is gearing up to celebrate its 400th birthday in 2008 with celebrations throughout the year. Groups enjoy exploring the winding old streets, interesting boutiques, and numerous cafés of Old Québec, the first city in North America to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Complementing the city's charm are numerous nearby sites for year-round outdoor activities, from skiing to canoeing.
The province of Québec, including Montréal and Québec City, is probably the one area of Canada most different from the United States. French is the official language of the province, although English is widely spoken, particularly in the business community. Montréal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris, and the most bilingual in North America.
A perfect warm-weather incentive might be to chart a course north to the uncrowded waters of Atlantic Canada, where cruise passengers can observe whales from a ship's deck, cruise down iceberg alley, or ride the world's highest tides in the Bay of Fundy. This year cruise lines will have more ships with more departures — and sailing earlier in the year than ever before — in the Maritimes and the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador.
Outdoor Adventure? Go West
The West Coast tends to attract a mix of groups — outdoor adventure and activities draw groups to the Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis, and Jasper, Alberta; and Whistler, B.C. mountain resort areas, while Calgary, Alberta, ropes them in with its cowboy culture, and Vancouver, B.C., provides an easy mix of relaxed city charm and recreation, from sailing to a walk through the rain forest. For a true Canadian welcome in most of those areas, groups can be greeted by retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers dressed in their traditional red serge uniforms.
Combining the mountain experience with a city base is a good way to experience several different cultures. In Calgary, for example, groups are only one hour from the Canadian Rockies, making for an easy daytrip; but they also have the chance to experience the Old West with the Calgary Stampede and other special events. For a different feel, the modern easygoing city of Vancouver contrasts nicely with a wealth of Native heritage that groups can tap into, such as experiencing a sweat lodge ceremony or a First Nations Tour, which includes learning about the totems, visiting a replica of a Haida village, and a tour or special event at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. The city is priming for its role as host of the Olympic Games in 2010, and has easy access to the mountain charms of Whistler or the British-flavored gardens and teahouses of Victoria.
For groups that want to experience several aspects of the West, Rocky Mountaineer and Viarail train excursions provide both short hops and longer excursions in old-world splendor.
For More Information
The Canadian Tourism Commission has individuals who specialize in assisting conventions, meetings, and incentive groups. The CTC's Web site at www.meetingscanada.travel has links to CVBs throughout the country. Following are some of the CVBs for major group destinations:
Banff/Lake Louise Tourism Bureau
Calgary Convention & Visitors Bureau
Tourism British Columbia
(800) 663-6000; www.hellobc.com
(416) 203-2600; www.torontotourism.com
Québec City and Area Tourism and Convention Bureau
New Brunswick Tourism
Visit Nova Scotia
(800) 565-0000; www.novascotia.com
Prince Edward Island
Visit Prince Edward Island