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by Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua

The path was segregated for wheels on one side and legs on the other. It hugged the sea wall, following the contours of the shore on each side of False Creek. It was early morning twilight, dusky still, a little before 6:30 in late April. On one side the water was alive with wildlife, ducks and geese and other birds whose names I don’t know. On the other were tall, contemporary steel and glass buildings, stately and majestic, towering upwards. The path changed direction and was now orientated back towards the buildings. Framed between two streets there were snow capped mountains. It pivoted again and now I was running east, directly into the brand new rising sun. Joni Mitchell was loud in my ear with “A Case of You”

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice

When she sang “Oh Canada” I actually burst out crying. The astonishing urban beauty of Vancouver, as she awoke au naturale to a beautiful Spring day, was pure, uncontrolled emotion. All I could do was cry.


In January 2020 SITE’s Global Conference will decamp to Vancouver. Our job in Vancouver was to work with Tourism Vancouver and partners on the conference programme and collectively co-create an unforgettable event for our delegates. Over 36 hours Dave Gazley (Vice President, Meeting and Convention Sales Tourism Vancouver) along with his team and supplier-partners most notably Matt Coyne of Cantrav made us all fall hopelessly in love with the city and set up the broad parameters for what will be the best SITE conference yet.

Here’s a sneak preview of just some of the highlights that await us in January 2020:

Vancouver: J.W. Marriott Parq

Fun Fact: Parq Vancouver is an “entertainment” destination adjacent to BC Place Stadium with 2 hotels and 8 world class restaurants 

SITE Global Conference 2020 host hotel will be the relatively new J.W. Marriott Parq. The J.W. Marriott interconnects with a sister property, The Douglas (Autograph Collection) the whole presenting something of the city’s duality: boutique compactness, on the one hand, spacious urbanity on the other.

The formal education programme will take place at the J.W. Marriott. The conference facilities there have great intuitive flow between spaces and are flooded with natural daylight. There’s also a reassuring sense of place with views on one side to False Creek and, on the other, to Yaletown.

With airy, spacious and light filled guest rooms and a perfect downtown location I think we’ve more that ticked the boxes around what constitutes a great conference hotel. Thanks Michael Parsons, Director of Sales, and team for a brilliant experience!


Vancouver: Granville Island

Fun fact: Vancouver was called Granville from 1870 – 1886 after British statesman, Granville Leveson-Gower.

Once an industrial manufacturing area (but still host to a working concrete plant), Granville island (it’s a peninsula, actually, NOT an island) is a short ferry ride across False Creek from the J.W. Marriott and offers a plethora of rich pickings for SITE delegates. In Bangkok we introduced our SITE “deep dives”, once-off opportunities to dive below the surface of the destination and immerse ourselves in something truly different. We’ll continue this immensely popular programme inclusions in Vancouver and – undoubtedly – we’ll land on Granville Island.

During our 36 hour sojourn we enjoyed some truly wonderful immersive encounters – with Skai Fowler and Alice Rich  at Studio 13, for example. Skai is a 30 year fine art veteran who is committed to translating the energy of the city into colour (see image below) while Alice comes late to the practice of art having worked initially in arts administration.


We also visited The Liberty Distillery, an artisan facility for whiskey, vodka and gin and learned from a Tipperary Irishman what constitutes real craft: only B.C. grains, only on-site fermentation using traditional methods, no additives preservatives or artificial flavours and TOTAL production cannot exceed 100,000 litres per year.



Vancouver Convention Centre

Fun Fact: Vancouver Convention Centre’s “purpose” is: to elevate Vancouver as the global leader and convention destination of choice, by creating inspiring and sustainable experiences for – Our clients, Our team, Our community

Within the Business Events industry, Vancouver Convention Centre is reference point for many reasons – aesthetics and architecture, location, integration with city, flexibility and versatility of events spaces, sustainability commitment, brilliant management team. The visiting SITE team can vouch for all of these things – and more!

We had a lunchtime food experience worthy of an award winning Michelin starred property followed by a behind-the-scenes tour with Executive Chef, Mark Massicotte where we gained a valuable insight into what constitutes a “scratch kitchen” and how food experiences for large capacity events are far from conveyor belt mass catering but highly curated occasions where you can have as many as 250 different dietary requirements.


Vancouver: Grouse Mountain

Fun Fact: Weather permitting, you can take the 2.7km Grouse Grind to the top. The name says it all!

While downtown Vancouver was bathed in warm spring sunshine, it was a winter wonderful still a mere 30 mins away. This is probably one of the most extraordinary aspects to life in Vancouver, the close proximity to each other of so many contrasting options: city / countryside, urban / outdoor, water / mountains, contemporary architecture / timeless nature etc

In late April Grouse Mountain – 1100 metres above Vancouver –  was still in “winter” mode (as she will be in January 2020) although we did arrive there on the very day that 2 Grizzly Bears who live in an enclosed habitat awoke from their winter hibernation. Grouse Mountain offers a cornucopia of “deep dives” including snow shoeing for those of us who don’t ski but would like that sense of snow around us.

Vancouver Mural Festival

Fun fact: Taking place between August 7–12 — this is Vancouver city’s largest annual free public art celebration.

As part of our pursuit of unique deep dives, we were introduced to the folks behind the Vancouver Mural Festival, a wonderful annual event that draws attention to an alternative viewpoint on the city, filtered through the creative, quirky eyes of the talented muralists.

We met and chatted with David Vertesi, Executive Director of the Festival (and member of the uber-cool Hey Ocean, an award winning indie band in Western Canada) and were taken on a mural walk by one of his wonderful, highly informed team members who talk us through the layers of meaning behind the various murals we stopped to consider.



As I pursue my notes again  from this wonderful Vancouver city immersion I realise what’s here is very much an amuse bouche, a mere palate teaser for a conference that’ll be the like the banquet of all banquets. Keep your eyes pealed for registration as this conference will certainly sell out.

I was in Vancouver with my colleagues Head of Events at SITE, Tahira Endean,  SITE President 202o Jenn Glynn, Event Chair Lynne Coyne along with our PCO partners, Conference Partners International (CPI).  We were hosted by Dave Gazley of Tourism Vancouver and Matt Coyne of Cantrav.





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