Stretching from the Pacific coast’s Vancouver Island through the jaw-dropping scenery of majestic mountain ranges and the fertile plains of Canada’s breadbasket, Western Canada boasts every meeting setting imaginable aside from palm trees and sun-soaked beaches.
The region has also upped the ante by adding or improving on an impressive number of meetings and events facilities.
The gateway to the Canadian Rockies destinations of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, Calgary’s major metro is on the move with the BMO Centre gearing up for a potential half-billion-dollar expansion.
Stakeholders are confident of a spring 2019 groundbreaking. The project would nearly double the size of the convention facility to 1 million square feet.
“This will really bump Calgary up to a tier-one city in Canada,” said Janelle Gignac, marketing and communications coordinator for Meetings Calgary. “The expansion will make it into the second-largest convention center in Canada and will let us compete for those bigger bids.”
Recently opened properties in Calgary include:
- 155-room ALT Hotel in Downtown East Village, with 3,500 square feet of meeting space.
- 247-room Westin Calgary Airport, with 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
- The 127-room Hyatt Place Calgary Airport, with 1,950 square feet of meeting space.
- The 153-room Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Calgary South-Conference Centre, with 6,000 square feet of meeting space in an on-site conference center with a large ballroom.
New hotels and meeting facilities in Calgary include:
- The 390-suite Residence Inn by Marriott Calgary Downtown and SilverBirch Conference Center, opening in fall 2019 with 10,000 square feet of meeting space in a dedicated conference center.
- The 300-room, dual-branded Courtyard by Marriott and Autograph Collection, opening fall 2020.
- The 156-room ALT Hotel-University District, opening in fall 2020.
Some other accolades of Calgary include convenient air access, with nonstop flights from most major U.S. cities and an airport that’s only about 20 minutes from downtown.
Calgary is also the only Canadian province that doesn’t charge a provincial sales tax, which Gignac says can result in meetings saving 5 percent of their costs.
Kelowna, British Columbia
In the heart of British Columbia’s Okanagan wine country and surrounded by fertile agricultural lands, Kelowna is a lakeside destination that appeals mainly to corporate retreats, small association groups and incentive groups primed to live the good life.
“The reason people like to visit is the reason we live here—the lifestyle is pretty awesome,” said Jennifer Widmer, who handles travel media and communications for the Tourism Kelowna.
“We have great proximity to all sorts of activities, such as hiking and biking, and skiing in the winter, along with a beautiful lake," she added.
New meeting facility additions include an extensive addition to the 50th Parallel Estate, which added a 10,000-square-foot convention center with views of Okanagan Lake through floor-to-ceiling windows. The center can accommodate 100 for a sit-down dinner and offers six meeting spaces.
Kelowna also added the Craft Beer Market, located in a former movie theater downtown and featuring 100 beers on tap, with half hailing from the province or local area. Its rooftop patio boasts a shuffleboard area overlooking the lake that can accommodate 450 for a reception.
Other benefits of holding a meeting in Kelowna include good airlift for such a small destination—Kelowna International Airport is the 10th busiest in Canada, with three daily flights to Seattle—and its prodigious agricultural output that has solidified its reputation as a center of farm-to-table cuisine.
Meetings and events taking advantage of the South Saskatoon River are a highlight of the largest city in Saskatchewan, with outdoor activities and First Nations culture providing plenty of opportunities to immerse attendees in its unique offerings.
New meeting facility additions include:
- 155-room Alt Hotel Saskatoon, which opened in early 2019, is located the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in the center of the city and offers 4,500 square feet of meeting space.
- The 231-room Sandman Signature Hotel is anticipated to open in 2019.
In 2019, the Radisson Saskatoon will change brands to become the Delta Hotel by Marriott. The castle-like Delta Bessborough Hotel is updating its brand to become the Delta Hotels by Marriott Bessborough.
On the attractions front, the Remai Modern contemporary art museum has been open just over a year and is now hosting conferences, and Wanuskewin Heritage Park is initiating construction on a new Interpretive Center that will include gallery spaces and meeting rooms, with a bison herd to be established by summer as a new outdoor experience.
Farm One Forty is a new holistically run farm that mimics the way animals live in the wild and offers tours of the farm followed by a meal that is made solely from the ingredients it grows.
Vancouver, British Columbia
There’s always a lot going on in Western Canada’s largest city, which has experienced explosive growth that has catapulted it into being a world-class, cosmopolitan metro.
“The one thing that we always love promoting about Vancouver is that our convention center is within the downtown core,” said Carly Whetter, communications specialist, international and trade, for Tourism Vancouver. “In many cities it’s really hard to get from the convention center to other places, but in five minutes you can walk to a five-star restaurant with award-winning chefs and great seafood.
“And we’re not only on the water, but if you want to you, within 20 minutes you can go skiing” she added. “It’s quite impressive how you can go from the water to the top of a mountain within a day. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can do that.”
Sustainability is not just a buzzword in Vancouver, as the Vancouver Convention Centre was certified as the first LEED Platinum convention center in North America.
The EXchange Hotel is a new 204-room LEED Platinum heritage restoration concept hotel in the former Vancouver Stock Exchange building.
The same hotel group is opening up the four-star boutique Seaside Hotel in North Vancouver in late 2019, which will feature 71 oceanfront rooms and suites and an unspecified amount of meeting space.
A dual-branded JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and The Douglas, an Autograph Collection Hotel opened in the last year and a half with a combined 188 rooms and suites as well as a casino.
Tourism Vancouver’s Whetter described the entertainment destination on downtown’s False Creek as having a very Las Vegas-like theme but is augmented by eight restaurants that feature locally produced cuisine, beer and wine.
The JW boasts 60,000 square feet of meeting space and Vancouver’s largest hotel ballroom, weighing in at more than 15,000 square feet.
Victoria, British Columbia
A waterfront gem on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria may be heralded for its Victorian-style elegance at properties such as the Fairmont Empress Hotel—the tea service there is an experience not to be missed—but the modern world has entered to great effect.
“We have such history and historic charm, and alongside that is the vibrancy of the city and the new things that are coming in,” said Miranda Ji, vice president of sales for the Victoria Conference Centre & Business Events Victoria. “And this is very much a tourism destination, so we’re well equipped with activities to keep delegates busy.”
The biggest major facility news is the more than $45 million renovation of the iconic Fairmont Empress in late 2017. The 464-room Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four Diamond property called “Canada’s Castle on the Coast” overlooks the Inner Harbour and has been recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine with the World’s Best Award for the Top 10 City Hotels in Canada and honored as a Conde Nast Readers’ Choice and Gold List hotel.
The boutique Inn at Laurel Point is also benefitting from a renovation project, which began in fall 2018 and will include a new entryway, lobby and improvements to its ground floor meeting and event spaces. Renovations are targeted for completion by late spring 2019.
The 196-room hotel’s Terrace Ballroom, with a capacity for 200 guests, overlooks the property’s Japanese Garden and features an atrium with floor-to-ceiling windows to bring in the view.
Whistler, British Columbia
The world-class ski resort of Whistler, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, is also benefitting from a major investment in its resorts and meeting facilities.
“We’ve really reinvested in the product to show people that Whistler’s getting some TLC,” said Preston Miller, director of conference sales and services for Tourism Whistler. “We’ve done a fair amount of investment in [the Whistler Conference Centre], spending C$800,000 on the restrooms and adding retractable curtains in the ballroom for natural light.
“We’re also looking at a potential design change in the building to brighten things up.”
Renovations at major properties include the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which finished updating its washrooms and suites, adding more Fairmont Gold rooms.
The Fairmont is the largest property in the destination, offering 539 rooms.
The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, the destination’s second-largest property, is just coming off a guest room renovation, and the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa also just finished a renovation of all guest rooms.
Vail Resorts has also made a significant investment into the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, pouring nearly $50 million—the largest single-year capital investment in the resort’s history—to introduce a new 10-passenger gondola, six-passenger high-speed lift and other lift infrastructure improvements. The resort now offers the first three-gondola connection in the world, according to Vail Resorts.
A major benefit of holding a meeting or incentive in Whistler is its compact, village setting, which makes the two-hour drive from Vancouver worth it because groups can hunker down after arriving without usually needing additional transportation.
“One of the things that makes Whistler so special is it’s a pedestrian village, so there’s lots of things to do in a small space,” Miller said. “You will actually see your attendees and network with them, unlike San Francisco, where you cut them loose and never see them.
“Technology groups call it a campus-like feeling, and they don’t mind using multiple hotels and the convention center because it kind of reminds them of Apple headquarters or Google’s home base," he added.
Winnipeg’s biggest expansion news happened in 2016, when RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg spent more than $135 million to nearly double its size to 264,000 square feet of space.
The convention center is within walking distance of 2,300 hotel rooms with more than 1,000 connected via a heated indoor skywalk.
“We now have the fourth-largest convention center in Canada,” said Natalie Thiesen, director of tourism for Tourism Winnipeg, adding that the area’s ample agribusiness, aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries tends to draw a lot of international conferences in those fields, along with medical conferences.
Off-site event venue news includes the expansion of the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Inuit Art Center, which showcases the world’s most extensive public collection of contemporary Inuit art, according to Thiesen.
Canada’s Diversity Gardens, a more than $50 million indoor/outdoor horticulture attraction, is set to open in 2020 and will feature The Leaf as its centerpiece. The 65,000-square-foot expanse will feature four distinct climates and be available for meetings and events rental.
The $300 million SHED (Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District) mixed-use development in True North Square will offer four towers, with a large public plaza, green space, retail shops, a restaurant and a 275-room, five-star Sutton Place Hotel when completed in 2020.