‘Pent-up demand’ for in-person events says Destination Canada Business Events

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, executive director of Business Events at Destination Canada speaks to M&IT on post-Covid-19 recovery and welcoming back the meetings and incentives market.

Do you think the events industry has changed forever?

Yes, it has, but by what degree remains to be seen. Once it’s safe to meet again, we anticipate there will be pent-up demand for in-person events; after all – we are people doing business with people. That being said, it will be incumbent on organisations to host meaningful, content-rich, purpose-filled events their delegates will want to attend in person, versus online.

We are presented with a real opportunity to reimagine the current model for hosting events. There’s really no end to the ways organisers can drive real-world and online attendance, event revenue and organisational relevancy — creativity and creating value for their stakeholders will be key, here, and a willingness to experiment with new formats.

What measures and strategies have you in place in this time of lockdown/coronavirus crisis?

As the destination marketing and research organisation for Canada, we must set the tone and provide leadership for the industry as we move through our three-phase approach of Response, Recovery, and Resilience.

We are currently in the response phase, focused on data collection and analysis to provide a clear picture of the effect of Covid-19 on the business events industry, and investing time into market research to build a deeper understanding of the marketplace.

Sales activities and customer outreach will pick back up once we see signs of recovery. Over time, and in alignment with federal guidelines, we’ll evolve our strategy to rebuild Canada’s business events industry with the goal of creating resiliency and economic nourishment for our constituents.

How will you manage event safety going forward?

Canadian health and safety standards are set by the Public Health Agency of Canada and monitored by each individual province.

Chantal Sturk Nadeau.

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau.

Compliance is managed by the municipality. Our role as a national NTO is to share how our destinations and event venues are complying to those standards in order to build trust in meeting planners and audiences.

When do you think live events will start happening again?

There are a number of factors to consider before relaunching in-person events but first and foremost is the safety and wellbeing of conference attendees. We are conducting local sentiment surveys to gauge how tourism will be welcomed in various jurisdictions as we move through the recovery stage, but Federal guidelines such as border and other travel restrictions will dictate when international travel can resume.

What business events are confirmed to take place – will it be in the fall – or next year?

There are many things that will impact the resumption of in-person events that are beyond our control. At this point our partner DMOs are reaching out to clients, monitoring the status of their events. The priority for Canada throughout this crisis has been the health and wellbeing of Canadians; business events will resume when it’s safe to do so.

How hard has the business events industry in Canada been hit financially?

Like every other country, Canada has been greatly impacted by Covid-19. Our research is showing that some 65 per cent of this year’s business events were either cancelled or postponed as of mid-April. We anticipate there will be further decline with summer and fall events that are currently at risk for cancellation.

What would you say the major changes are to the events industry today?

Over the past three years, we’ve promoted Canadian innovation industries and how those in industry, academia and government can come together to support hosting business events in Canada. By spotlighting our global leadership across industries, we not only help grow Canada’s economy through hosting business events, we help planners understand the many ways they can create meaningful meetings: ones that leverage Canada’s knowledge capital to attract more delegates and grow their membership and revenue streams, expand opportunities for cross-industry collaboration, and advance the careers of their delegates through connections they’ve made while meeting here.

Covid-19 has disrupted business as usual. While it has become apparent that some companies (buyers and suppliers) and market segments will be significantly reduced either through attrition or amalgamation, it is an overarching belief that business events will rebound, but the landscape will shift: real-world events will have to provide very compelling reasons for delegates to choose to attend an event in person, versus online. Conferences will be impacted by travel restrictions (which are continuing to evolve), physical distancing guidelines, availability of air lift, budget constraints, integration of new technologies and innovative ways to deliver content. We could look at all of this as a negative, or we can look at it as a tremendous opportunity for innovation.

Are there any new initiatives for the meetings and incentives market?

We are always innovating our approach to marketing Canada in the MICE market. We’ve taken the opportunity during Covid-19 to retool our approach to business events, expanding our existing strategy of leveraging our key priority sectors, with enough flexibility to swiftly adjust to ever-changing market conditions.

What does Canada offer to the business events industry?

Our knowledge sectors include advanced manufacturing, life sciences, technology, CleanTech, natural resources, and agribusiness and a long list of sub-sectors. Linking conference events to industry ecosystems and innovation hubs helps organisers compete for delegate attention which has always been a valuable commodity that we only expect to grow in the post-Covid-19 era. Leveraging Canadian knowledge capital also helps conference organisers create meaningful, purpose-fuelled events and experiences that delegates will want to attend.