Approaching its centennial in 2020, the D.C.-based American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has taken its annual Meeting & Exposition to Canada seven times. This historic “association” includes the host cities of Niagara Falls (1930), Montreal (1935 and 1967) and Toronto, which after securing the “Super Bowl of Conventions” in 1952, 1988 and 2009, held ASAE for a fourth time this year.
Toronto went the extra mile—700, in fact—to secure the 2017 bid. In early 2010, a team of Tourism Toronto and Metro Toronto Convention Centre senior executives arrived at ASAE’s headquarters for an apparent traditional boardroom-style bid presentation. Once gathered, however, they invited their counterparts outside to “show them something.” Parked outside, a non-descript tractor-trailer housed a surprise reveal—the Imaginarium, the bureau’s Business Events’ hospitality lounge gone mobile.
With the group comfortably settled on couches in the chic, mood-lit space, the presentation began in earnest. According to Kathryn Wakefield, Tourism Toronto’s director of client services, the idea was “to bring Toronto to ASAE, and share with them all the proposed and upcoming venues, attractions and other developments happening in Toronto that we knew would favor enhanced possibilities and new experiences for a return show in the future.”
The surprise paid off.
“Appreciating how Toronto could enhance the experience of our successful 2009 meeting, we signed on the spot,” recalled ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV.
It would prove the ink on another successful deal. Attracting more than 4,500 association professionals and industry partners, the 2017 show fulfilled the promise of its “What Inspires” theme with four days of motivating keynotes, educational sessions and networking.
For Toronto, which realized economic impact of $3.1 billion from meetings in 2016, it was the latest victory lap in a long track record of hosting exceptional events, as “Canada’s Downtown” continues to invest in its status as one of North America’s foremost places to meet.
Like ASAE itself, evolving through innovations such as the Xperience Design Project (XDP) introduced earlier this year, Toronto’s meetings profile is much changed since 2009.
“Our last Toronto meeting evaluated very well, with above-expected attendance despite the recession and then weaker dollar,” Graham said. “Back then, Canada was still viewed as an international destination, off-limits for some associations. Working closely with the Canadian Tourism Commission (now Destination Canada) and Business Events Canada over the last decade, we have done much to dissipate that travel prohibition, along with that ‘international’ stigma. Travel to Canada, or Mexico, is not like going to Asia or South America. While still requiring a passport, it’s travel within North America, and much simpler.”
For its part, Toronto more than fulfilled its promise of “enhancing the experience.” Foresting the city with cranes for nearly a decade, runaway development continues to reshape the Toronto skyline with soaring commercial and residential towers. Tourism and major events also drive infrastructure development. After hosting the G-20 Summit in 2010, Toronto set to preparing for the Pan American Games—the world’s third largest international multisport athletic competition—and accompanying Parapan American Games, in 2015.
This five-year timeframe produced luxurious new hotels, including The Ritz-Carlton in 2011, and in 2012, Trump International, Four Seasons and Shangri-La, helping to boost inventory to more than 38,000 rooms in 230-plus hotels.
New venues include Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, which added a buyout-capable group option between the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and CN Tower in 2013. Commenced in 2002, the 25-year, multibillion-dollar, multiuse transformation of some 2,000 acres of Toronto waterfront is presently the largest urban revitalization project underway in North America.