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Awesome Alberta, Canada

FebAlbertaShowcase 2_21_18

Alberta may be best known for the natural beauty of Banff and Lake Louise, the Calgary Stampede and the festival fun of Edmonton, but its best asset is possibly something quite intangible: the innate spirit of collaboration, creativity and the celebratory nature of its people—the meeting professionals as well as the general public.

Partner those qualities with the current political and economic (favorable exchange rate) environments, Canada’s well-deserved reputation as a safe and welcoming place, an incredible tourism framework and bucket-list destinations, and the result is an almost perfect combination of awesomeness for planners bringing their meetings and events to the province.

“Our goal is you just come, everybody wins,” says Mark Zanetti (MPI Greater Calgary Chapter), business development manager, MICE Canada for Banff & Lake Louise Tourism. “We all work together in Banff. That’s something that I notice planners really pick up on here. You’re going to meet with two transportation providers and they’re both going to tell you how awesome the other one is while they’re promoting their own products. I’m not lying; I’ve never seen it before.”

Anne Finzer (MPI Greater Edmonton Chapter), president of Edmonton-based CEO Events and Etc. Decor, sees this extra level of collaboration within the industry in Alberta as part of their nature.

“It’s a natural thing for us,” she says. “Even in terms of different nationalities, we welcome people from all over the world. It’s just not a closed-door mentality. We’re in it together and we’re going to keep the industry alive.”

But we know meeting professionals, right? They are not just going to take note of the extra awesomeness; they are going to celebrate it with what they do best—an event.

“We have 11,000 people who work in the industry in Edmonton, so it really is quite large,” says Arlene Schilke, managing partner of Timewise Event Management Inc. and president of the MPI Greater Edmonton Chapter.

Schilke, along with Brent Taylor, created the Edmonton Event Awards in 2016. The 2017 gathering was attended by 350 event professionals.

“We celebrate the industry and the people who produce some of the great events here in Edmonton, from planners to suppliers,” she says. “We’ve done two already and a third is planned for 2018. Just bringing the industry together, breaking down barriers and celebrating what we do is really exciting and rewarding.”

Finzer sees this Canadian festivity as innate, as well.

“I believe in celebrating life in a huge way; everything’s a big deal,” Finzer says. “It’s part of our nature in Canada that we just celebrate life. Therefore, when it comes to delivering an event, whether you’re a venue or you’re an entertainer, you have that engrained in your DNA. It’s in our DNA to be celebratory.”

However, as Finzer points out, “events are not just events, they are experiences.” And the experiences that Alberta’s meeting professionals create for attendees are bursting with homegrown creativity. From culinary teams to tech to design and beyond, Finzer believes “it’s all about making that experience happen for the guest. I feel like now, even more than in the past perhaps, our culinary teams across Edmonton are far more embracing of creative menus. Maybe they just get it better, being in the industry for as long as they have. We’ve got the right people in the right jobs. Speaking for Calgary and Edmonton, we have amazing talent, amazing and unique vendors ready to jump to the table to help planners when they come into our cities.”

One of Zanetti’s favorite events was when an incentive group erected an immense see-through-the-top tent for 2,200-plus attendees on the first hole of the Banff Springs Golf Club. While Sheryl Crow sang, attendees sipped champagne and watched the tip of the mountain in view turn pink with the setting sun. That same group also bought out a lodge on a local ski hill and had their logo projected onto the glistening white snow (a buyout gives temporary naming rights for the mountain).

It’s not just the intangibles of collaboration, creativity and celebration that set Alberta firmly upon the meetings and events stage. Infrastructure growth is complementing the booming MICE market with expanded airports and flights, new and renovated hotels, new attractions, cool venues and innovative uses of space.

October marked the one-year anniversary of the opening of a new international terminal at Calgary International Airport and an increase in international flights. Beginning in June, American Airlines will offer seasonal direct flights from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Aeromexico began a direct flight from Mexico City in June 2017.

Banff/Lake Louise, just 90 miles from Calgary, also benefits from expanded air service. Long known as one of the world’s premier “bucket list” destinations, the Banff/Lake Louise area is actually located inside the incomparable Banff National Park. Yes, you can hold meetings and events inside of the stunning protected wilderness of mountains, glaciers, valleys, forests, waterfalls and rivers that are even sometimes gifted with the special bonus of an aurora borealis display.

“It’s a pretty magical place,” Zanetti says. “Some destinations will lead with the room rebate; we lead with the emotional impact people leave this place with.”

Additionally, he says, the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity has completed room renovations.

“This is one of Canada’s largest art incubators—it’s a school, a conference center, a hotel,” Zanetti says. “And now their rooms match their conference space, which is modern, sexy and beautiful.”

He says the sweet spot for groups in Banff is around 2,000 people, and planners will get the most value during the October-April period.

“Everything we do is focused on October to April in our MICE world,” he says. “We see a lot of meetings come then because the rates drop, space is there.”

Even though the skiing in Banff is some of the best in the world, people also come during these months for dogsledding, photo tours, easy walks to frozen waterfalls, fresh mountain air and mountain views and Via Ferrata, a great team-building activity that allows people to easily summit a mountain.

Because of this location and attractions, Zanetti has seen glowing testimonials from attendees, particularly in pre and post tours—and when spouses and families accompany attendees. Planners see their delegates come alive and leave with unique, unforgettable experiences.

“Imagine having your event in Yellowstone. We balance the ecological integrity of Banff National Park—our first national park in Canada and the third national park in the world—with 4 million visitors annually who come to enjoy the beauty,” Zanetti says. “With Banff, the footprint we have will never get bigger. So in order for us to build something in the town of Banff, you have to tear something down and build on top of it. Our physical footprint cannot get any larger.”

One of the first new lodgings to open in a decade (summer of 2016) in Banff National Park is the 174-room Moose Hotel & Suites, a property that includes rooftop hot pools in order to soak while savoring the mountain views. Meeting space includes the 2,000-square-foot Canoe Room, the 750-square-foot Darch Hospitality Suite and Pacini Restaurant.

The iconic Mount Royal Hotel on Banff Avenue is scheduled to reopen in July of 2018 after a CDN$45 million renovation. New offerings that meeting planners can utilize will include a museum, a hotel library and a rooftop lounge with outdoor hot tubs and fire tables.

Down the road a few hours, Edmonton has also positioned itself as a major meeting and event destination. And pathways are opening to even more visitors. In May, Air Canada will begin a daily nonstop flight from San Francisco to Edmonton.

The Edmonton EXPO Centre and the Shaw Conference Centre merged under the management of the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. on Jan. 1. Finzer sees this as a great bonus for Edmonton.

“They partner really, really well and offer different things,” she says. “One thing for sure that they can do is a large consumer trade show, something like a CES.”

Adjacent to the Shaw Conference Centre is a fantastic handicapped-accessible river valley funicular that opened in December and will be in operation year round.

Edmonton’s ICE District (Canada’s largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district) will open its first luxury hotel, the JW Marriott Edmonton, in late 2018. The 356 guest rooms and suites will feature more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space, along with a 10,000-square-foot ballroom.

About the Author

Dian Barber - Writer
Dian Barber

Dian Barber is a data wrangler and has been contributing photography, research and writing to MPI’s publications since 2005.