Calgary: Canada's Emerging Destination for Conventions

March 20, 2018

In 2017, Canada earned three of the top five spots in The Economist’s list of most livable cities worldwide. Many event planners are familiar with Vancouver and Toronto but are perhaps less familiar with the third city named to the list: Calgary.

Calgary sits in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near arguably some of the best skiing in the world. It has become a technology hub, housing more tech start-ups than any other Canadian city. It’s also gaining traction as a destination for business conventions and events.

The largest event venue in Calgary is the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC), the nation’s first purpose-built convention center. Opened in 1974, the CTCC went through a major expansion in the late 1990s, effectively doubling its capacity.

The CTCC features 122,000 sq. ft. of dedicated convention space, 27,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, five pre-function areas and 36 meeting rooms. The convention center takes up two full city blocks in the midst of the city’s downtown area, surrounded by hotels, shopping and dining. The original portion of the building is on one side of the street, while the newer exhibition hall and more meeting space is directly opposite. The two buildings are connected via a tunnel and skybridges.

The three hotels adjacent to the convention center have all been through renovations within the past five years, to provide state-of-the-art facilities and updated sleeping rooms.

Opened in 1914 as The Palliser, the Fairmont Palliser is the oldest and most luxurious hotel in Calgary. The Fairmont features 407 guest rooms and 19,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The Hyatt Regency Calgary offers 33,000 sq. ft. of event space and 355 sleeping rooms, and the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel has 384 sleeping rooms and 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a rooftop patio.

The CTCC is connected to the greater downtown area via the Calgary Plus 15 elevated walkway system that exists throughout the town to keep residents and visitors warm and dry in the colder months. At 16 kilometers long, the +15 is the world’s most extensive pedestrian walkway system.

I spoke with Clark Grue, CEO of the CTCC, about the venue’s capabilities and the reasons behind the rising popularity of Calgary as an event destination.

When asked about the relationship with TELUS, Grue explained that the partnership allows the CTCC to continually look at upgrading existing technology and acquiring new technology. “They help make sure we’re staying on the cutting edge,” he said.

Grue cited the city’s location, growth, and area experiences as reasons more groups are looking at Calgary, stating that people use the CTCC as a community hub, a place to come from out of town and stay overnight, a place to explore the history of Alberta and western Canada, and a place to experience the local culture and attractions.

The downtown Glenbow Museum, one of the largest museums in western Canada, delivers on history with a wide collection focused on western Canadian culture and art. Other attractions within the city include hiking, cycling and rock climbing. Calgary is close to many world-class skiing resorts, including the WinSport Canada Olympic Park, which is located on the outskirts of the city. The Calgary Stampede rodeo, exhibition, fairgrounds and festival is held every July. And in May 2018, the Calgary Zoo will welcome four giant pandas, who will reside in the newly constructed Panda Passage for the next five years.

Grue also referenced the convenience and ease of getting around as being attractive to groups.

“When you're at a convention here, you can be staying at the Marriott or the Hyatt and can walk from your room directly to the CTCC, to shops and restaurants - it ties you right into the community of Calgary,” he said.

Another draw for international groups is the exchange rate: in recent years the Canadian dollar has been lower than the U.S. dollar, the Euro, and the British pound.

The average group size using the convention center is 500-1000 attendees, with approximately 2500 room nights, but the city can also host much larger groups. Groups typically come from within Canada, the U.S., and European cities.

As a city, Calgary is focused on green initiatives including renewable energy, and on giving back to its community. The CTCC supports local nonprofits: groups providing testimonials include the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, which has held its annual fundraising gala at the CTCC for the past four years, and the YWCA Calgary.

“What we're trying to do here in Calgary is to meet the convention market where it is today,” said Grue.

He continued, “Event planners and their delegates are looking for cool space, cool experiences. At the CTCC, we are working on ways to make our space even more interesting and collaborative to host these groups in new and unique ways and create great, cool experiences that they wouldn't have had somewhere else. We want to be great partners for planners and help them determine the best experience for their delegates.”

For more information on the CTCC, go HERE.

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