An economic powerhouse representing $19.3 billion in GDP, the Canadian meetings and business events sector is eager to get face-to-face gatherings back on track.

And if there’s one thing industry advocates have learned after six months of pandemic lockdown, it’s that government decision makers are receptive to exploring solutions-based ideas and initiatives.

On September 14, 2020, our panel of industry leaders and advocates shared their thoughts on the progress being made to move the sector forward.

Here are just a few of the key takeaways:

Clark Grue, 2020 MMBC Chair; CEO, Rainmaker Global Business Development

We need to be allowed to get back to work and we can do this safely—we know what we’re doing. This is our message to government on all levels. It’s really important that we’re working together and raising our voice to federal and provincial governments… to ensure they know how much of an impact we have. Every industry in Canada right now is stifled because we can’t do what we do so well. We are also pushing for financial support… and to keep these programs going as we go into the winter season so that as many companies as possible can survive. There’s no magic wand or a silver bullet here… it’s about persistence, speaking to [government] about building an opportunity or solution and by persuading the average Canadian to be our ally as we start to build this back up.

Laura Pallotta, Vice Chair, MMBC; Regional Vice-President, Sales & Distribution, Marriott International – Canada

We need to show what we know. We’ve put protocols in place and we’re certainly respectful of provincial guidelines. Look at how quickly the industry rallied to organize with enhanced sanitation standards guidelines… new operational training for associates… redesigned food and beverage experiences… reorganized meeting and public spaces… and ramping up new technologies. Where it makes sense to host industry events locally, we can demonstrate and hopefully instill more confidence with our customers… and maybe demystify what the experience would be like. We all have, within our industry associations, the opportunity to host face-to-face meetings. As much as possible, where it’s appropriate, we should try to attend those meetings and then share that information through social media. I think these steps are very important to continue to grow that confidence with our customers.

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, Executive Director, Business Events, Destination Canada

We’ve been doing a lot of research and focus groups with international clients, whether from the association side or corporate and incentive groups, to find out what’s important to them. We’re focusing our attention on trying to get [international] meetings back in 2022 and beyond… and ensuring that when things start to open up, people have confidence in Canada. There are three economic sectors that are thriving right now: technology, life sciences, and finance and insurance. When we look at how to continue to recover as a country, we should be talking about bringing in international conferences [in these sectors] and continue to advocate the value that business events bring to a country’s economic recovery.

Tracy Folkes Hanson, CAE, President & CEO, Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE)

We’ve certainly ramped up our advocacy and have consistently met with governments to educate them about the importance of the associations sector. We’ve done a lot of research to really understand our members, as well as research around events, meetings, conferences, member engagement, and recruitment and retention. Our recent survey estimates the total revenue loss this year will be about $1.6 billion in the association sector. If associations aren’t surviving, then we can’t book meetings. We all need to ensure that the stories told to government are clear, supported by numbers, and that they understand who’s impacted. Our stories are the stories of voters, and the voter—the public— is what brings about change in government. It’s about the collective and all of us being in this together.

Heidi Welker, Past Chair, MMBC; Senior Vice-President, Business Development & Industry Partnerships, Encore Canada

According to recent research, face-to-face meetings are still the preferred way of doing business in our industry. At the same time, a hybrid version—a combination of online and face-to-face meetings—will evolve. [Some people] are interested in attending hybrid events as an online-only delegate, especially if it’s an event they had never attended before. This is an opportunity to attract a new attendee base that we’ve not had before. Technology partners have stepped up to meet customer demand from a tech, creative, production and customization perspective. From a recovery standpoint, I view this as such a great opportunity for organizations to reinvent their engagement and, as importantly, their revenue models moving forward.

Bettyanne Sherrer, Principal, ProPlan Conferences & Events

As an entrepreneur and planner down in the trenches, so to speak, I’ve had a front row view of the impact and devastation that COVID-19 has had in our industry. At the same time, I’ve been inspired by so many who’ve shown true resiliency, innovation and creativity in how they’ve adapted themselves, their skill set and their product offerings. As our clients look at various scenarios as to how they’re going to move their businesses forward, we need to have a conversation about fear and help them understand that business events are highly controlled assemblies—they’re not public events. We have control over the audience, entry protocols, safety protocols and our communications from beginning to end. Nothing’s getting by us. Step one is for event planners to own it, and help our clients and our industry. We know how to do this. We are problem solvers and our resiliency is going to continue to serve us.

Candace Schierling, Director of Sales, Tourism Saskatoon

A DMO is a hub of information—it’s their job to connect people and be a unified voice for a destination. Now, there’s even more reliance on our knowledge to advise planners on COVID protocols within our provinces and our cities. Destinations across Canada are releasing industry guidelines for meetings, trade shows and events. They’ve taken this opportunity to really connect with their hotel partners, facilities, AV partners and others to learn from one another, to structure safety protocols and to put guidelines in place. While advocacy work is being done at other levels, I would encourage everyone, as part of this recovery, to educate, educate, educate as to how you can really influence the economic impact of our industry.