“Make no mistake, business events are big business, and it is an industry that is much larger than may be perceived.”
This was the opening statement presented at the recent Maximum Velocity II: Destination Canada forum in Winnipeg. This forum was convened with specialist practitioners and stakeholders from all over Canada representing government, the meetings, incentives and conventions business, the leisure tourism business, and as well as destination marketing organizations (DMOs), airports, carriers, and national industry organizations. TIAC, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada was represented, and The Hon. Maxime Bernier, Federal Minister of State for Small Business, Tourism, and Agriculture, also attended.
The purpose of the forum was to examine why Canada’s tourism business had fallen from eighth position in the world down to 16th in just over 10 years. The fact that the BEICC (Business Events Industry Coalition of Canada) was invited to participate was fitting, as it plays a rapidly growing and important role in championing the business meetings and events industry.
The BEICC was first established in Canada in 2009, following government direction in both USA and Canada for organizations to rein in spending on travel, hospitality, conferences. It comprises nine key associations – MPI, PCMA, SITE, ADME, CAEM, CanSPEP, CAPS, ISES and Convention Centres of Canada – and was formed to be the voice of business events, as well as to raise the industry’s profile. Business events are a key, strategic business tool and drive creativity, employee loyalty, and business success. That continues to this day, and gives the industry a sharper focus of its value to the overall Canadian economy. It takes time to develop that focus, and gradually, advances are made.
In January 2013, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), responsible for marketing tourism to Canada around the world, recognized the unique and important role that business meetings and events play in supporting Canada’s international business by renaming their Meetings, Conventions, and Incentive Travel group as ‘Business Events Canada’ – an ideal synergy with the work that BEICC is doing. Business Events Canada has to have the capability to continue to reach clients around the world frequently and consistently. They do a really good job, and have carefully crafted a strategy to be in line with seven priority industry sectors in the federal ‘Global Markets Action Plan’.
One of the key issues identified at the Winnipeg Forum was that in order to regain its position in world tourism rankings, the CTC should again start marketing in the U.S. market. Four years ago, due to funding constraints, the CTC curtailed its US marketing campaign in favour of targeting tourists in overseas and emerging markets.
It requires a concerted effort by the entire tourism industry, including business events, through influence with government to secure more funds, so that the CTC is able to carry out that increased level of marketing. As the luncheon speaker, the Minister of State Maxime Bernier clearly said, he was open to listening to proposals on how to achieve this. The main influencer for government advocacy is TIAC, and they have already called on the CTC to resume marketing to the US market. With an impending general election in fall 2015, the timing is right for lobbying. Mr Bernier’s response was that upon the appointment of a new CEO at CTC this fall, he will be open to finding new ways to get back to investing in the US market. As it turns out, the appointment of David Goldstein, President of TIAC, was announced on October 16th. This is a clear and positive encouragement for the industry as a whole to mobilize.
In his now former role with TIAC, David Goldstein told forum participants that there is no easy button to success. The industry has to be organized and must make the case for compelling change in an environment where there are many other industries all clamoring for government attention. It is essential to frame issues properly in order to have a chance at that success. It takes decisions in 15 federal departments and agencies to affect the travel and tourism industry. Encouragingly, there appears to be a new willingness by the federal government to listen and work with industry partners. David Goldstein went on to say that tourism is part of a global mobility economy, and that progress will evolve from collaboration by different sectors of the industry, and not in a tops-down manner like other industries, e.g. resources, automobiles.
That is absolutely the case for business events that has to be addressed. Collaboration between its many independent suppliers will be important to raise its profile and influence. In terms of the Canadian economy, business events are already a significant contributor: While they account for just 16 per cent of all visitors to Canada, they generate almost one quarter of all revenues. What’s more, over 80 per cent of business events travellers to Canada already come from the United States.
From a BEICC and business events standpoint, there is a very timely new report, the Canadian Economic Impact Study (CEIS 3.0), recently published, which reinforces several significant and eye-opening findings. The CEIS 3.0 study was conducted by Maritz Canada, the Conference Board of Canada, and others on behalf of the MPI Foundation and has now moved to the BEICC for implementation and further development.
Here are some of the findings:
- The business events industry delivered no less than $27 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2012, the base year for the data.
- That’s 1.5 per cent of Canada’s total GDP. What is more, business events also contributed $8.5 billion in taxes and service fees to all levels of government.
- Business events drove a significant level of employment – over 340K jobs – of which 200K were full time jobs.
- These jobs are generally well paid, averaging almost $50K a year, and account for about two per cent of all employment in Canada.
- The relative size of the business events industry in Canada is significant. It’s as big as agriculture, forestry, and as the arts and entertainment industry. Additionally, the number of jobs is nearly double that of telecommunications, or utilities.
These are powerful and relevant facts that government must be aware of.
An important side note is that business events, and tourism as a whole, have a rapid impact on employment as the economy rises and falls. For that reason, maintaining the focus on business events and tourism without doubt should be an important priority.
It is a fragmented and fluid industry, with a collection of independent suppliers, who create formal and informal partnerships with as many stakeholders as necessary, based on the requirements of an individual event. These independent, small-business suppliers operate in every corner of our country. They need encouragement and help to attract business, and to be able to seamlessly implement programs for clients, with committed and well-trained employees.
People in this industry love what they do and get much satisfaction from the programs they create. They can be said to be the classic profile of small business entrepreneurs, whom Joe Oliver, the Federal Minister of Finance, recently mentioned as “the drivers of Canada’s prosperity”.
In preparing for this forum, I spoke to several business events industry stakeholders from Halifax to Vancouver. Unanimously, they shared a common view that Canada as a destination simply must be on the radar screen of potential clients around the world through CTC to recover its pre-eminent role, and must involve stakeholders from all 10 provinces and three territories. Sustainable long-term funding, both direct and indirect, is vital. Additionally, continued participation by individual suppliers in worldwide trade shows and expositions such as IMEX, EIBTM, MPI WEC Forum, ASAE, ICCA, and many others, will help increase our profile.
During the entire forum it was very stimulating to observe a strong commonality and agreement between forum delegates in the various industry sectors – business events, leisure, and air industries – of how important it was to the federal government to pay attention not only to the impact of their segments of the tourism business as a whole to Canada’s economy, but on the way in which Canada interacts with the rest of the world. It truly does connect humanity. Our industry has a key role to play. The time is now to continue to raise our collective voices, and be heard.