Though the outcome of the NBA championships remained undecided this past weekend, Canada was in a celebratory mood. At least that was true of the several dozen representatives of top Canadian destinations, properties, DMCs and other suppliers who struck an upbeat note as they promoted their offerings to incentive buyers at Business Events Canada's annual Incentive Canada 2019 networking gathering.
Held over four days across a pair of British Columbia destinations, the event brought together more than 80 members of the incentive industry for one-on-one meetings, outdoor experiences and educational activities, all aimed at showing off what this expansive country has to offer incentive groups.
"Right now is a good time for tourism and visiting Canada," said Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, executive director of Destination Canada's Business Events team. "Everything from the welcoming, open culture and diversity to the attractive exchange rate to a multitude of unique experiences is making it a good time for incentive groups to visit here."
Northstar's own findings bear this out: Meetings & Conventions' recent Global Planner Survey found Canada to be the most popular choice for destinations for an international meeting in 2020.
Sturk-Nadeau emphasized that the country's adventurous, immersive offerings have particular appeal to attendees seeking "transformational" experiences that will not just wow their friends on Instagram, but leave them with deep sensory memories that will stick with them for decades.
Case in point: the Sonora Resort, where the first half of the event took place. First launched as a fishing lodge on a remote island in northern British Columbia, it has grown into a luxurious 88-room property. Attendees were transported to the destination via helicopter, and once there were treated to a feast of locally sourced seafood and wine, as well as a number of activities that spotlighted Sonora's remarkable natural surroundings: whale-watching outings, foraging hikes, tree plantings and more.
Of course, plenty of business was done there as well, with a series of one-on-one meetings between incentive buyers and suppliers as well as numerous networking opportunities throughout. Notable among these was an evening reception in the Sea Lion Pointe — a secluded lodge complete with towering fireplace and an entire wall of windows, as well as billiard room, a home theater and a full kitchen. It's here that the resort's owner, H.Y Louis Co. CEO and London Drugs chairman Brandt Louie, stays when he and his family visit the property, but which he makes available for private events and gatherings. Filled with sculptures and other artwork by contemporary indigenous artists, the venue is at once a rustic lodge, a carefully curated museum and an opulent venue for an unforgettable celebration (the place also includes four expansive suites, each with hot tub and fireplace, ideal for VIPs).
The suppliers in attendance included representatives of major cities such as Business Events Montreal, Ottawa Tourism, the Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau and Quebec City Business Destination; off-the-beaten-path destinations such as the Northwest Territories Tourism, Travel Manitoba and Business Events Victoria; big-name hotel brands such as Fairmont and Delta; as well as gems such as Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, the Sparkling Hill Resort and the Wickaninnish Inn.
"Canada can appeal to so many interests and demographics with several attractions so close in proximity — and where the transport itself is an experience," says Sturk-Nadeau. "Time is critical for incentives, and at so many major cities in other countries, it takes an hour just to get out of the city. Here, within an hour you're deep in the wilderness."
This was demonstrated in the weekend's program. After two days of waking up to seals splashing around in the bay and bald eagles scouring for prey, attendees hopped aboard seaplanes and soon found themselves in the bustling city of Vancouver. They got a chance to sample local dishes and drinks at the Granville Market, take a guided tour of Chinatown and stroll across the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge, 460 feet in the air. In sum, the program presented the multitudes contained within Canada.
"You can go nose-to-nose with a polar bear or heli-skiing, or explore Canada’s diverse urban cultures, or do the Skywalk on the CN Tower in Toronto," said Sturk-Nadeau. "It's a combination of experiences that creates a great balance for any group."
In Vancouver, attendees stayed at the city's newest hotel, the JW Marriott Parq, co-located with The Douglas by Marriott Autograph Collection. The 329-room (including 48 suites) JW offers visitors an "elegant luxury" experience including high-end spa and dining options, while the 188-room (including 10 suites) Douglas provides a more earthy, boutique feel, with touches such as a glass-encased Douglas fir as a check-in desk, a wood-and-concrete design aesthetic, and exclusive fir-infused gin available to guests. Together, the properties offer groups 60,000 square feet of meeting space all on one floor. An evening mixer also took advantage of the Douglas' stylish penthouses, complete with two bars and multiple F&B stations throughout a pair of adjoining suites.
Altogether, the program provided a snapshot of Canada's wide-ranging offerings for groups, and helped make the case to the visiting planners that now is an ideal time for a visit.
"When it comes to incentives, Canada is a spot where people have long thought, 'I'd like to go to Canada someday,' but maybe it did not have that urgency," Sturk-Nadeau says. "Today, people are saying, 'let's go now.'"