by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
It’s hard to describe Vancouver without referencing San Francisco: two cities with paradisiacal natural surroundings, on the water, both with iconic bridges, both heavily Asian, both redolent of supreme west coast cool. Vancouver’s connections to that stunningly rich natural hinterland – the islands, woodlands, mountains – are more immediate, however. The thoroughly modern downtown area is connected to water on 3 sides and its horizon is dominated by snow capped mountains and heavily forested islands.
Equally, the city’s architectural aspect is much more homogeneous and uniform than San Francisco. Vancouver is a towering city of glass, unapologetically contemporary, confidently tall. Deservedly a top 5 city on most global rankings, Vancouver has an unsurpassed infrastructure for Business Events and an enviable quality of life factor making it a highly desirable place to run events or to live in.
Vancouver Convention Centre
The Vancouver Convention Centre anchors the city’s Business Events credentials and forms the nucleus of Canada Place, a massive campus-like development, picturesquely situated along the waterfront in the downtown area. Significantly enlarged and expanded for the 2010 winter games, the Convention Centre now offers 43,340 sqm (466,500 sqf) of meetings and exhibition space and 868 guest rooms at the fully integrated Pan Pacific and Fairmont Pacific Rim hotels. The campus includes deep-dock berthing facilities for large cruise ships, the immensely popular FlyOver Canada visitor attraction and Jack Poole Plaza, a huge civic space where public concerts are staged. It’s an extraordinary development that demonstrates how a city’s strategy around business events can also significantly improve the quality of life for citizens and visitors alike.
Close to the Convention Centre is the Wall Centre, a Sheraton property with over 700 guestrooms in two towers and 50,000 sqf of meeting space, including 3 ballrooms. Bringing significant guestroom and meeting room inventory to any city-wide convention, the Wall Centre also operates as a self-contained meetings and events facility. Thanks to its city centre position and excellent digital infrastructure, the Wall Centre has become the de facto go-to location in Vancouver for hi-tech events according to my great buddy, Vancouver resident and meetings supremo, Tahira Endean of British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC). Guestrooms are light filled with floor to ceiling windows, the upper floors providing extraordinary views of the city and the surrounding hinterland. This is a magnificent statement building whose construction and finish corresponds with Vancouver’s rise and rise as a confident, contemporary multi-cultural hub in the North Pacific Rim.
Hotels for Incentives
Vancouver has an outstanding selection of 4 and 5 star properties suitable for high-end incentives and motivational meetings including no fewer than 3 Fairmont properties, a flagship Four Seasons and the city’s tallest building, Living Shangri La. Hotel Georgia, meanwhile, is a recently renovated Rosewood property that oozes high-end appeal while remaining confidently understated and demure, a bit like the city itself. The ground floor public areas are all heritage style dark woods and marble with quirky contemporary art pieces to add personality and colour. Boutique in size – Rosewood doubled the room size and halved the room count – this is a property “imbued with legacy and luxury”, a perfect haven for a discreet, high-touch incentive programme.
The Vancouver Art Gallery
The Vancouver Art Gallery is located opposite the Hotel Georgia in what used to be the provincial Courthouse, a handsome, upstanding neo-classical building dating from the early years of the last century. Relatively small if compared with Art Museums in other global cities, this is a gallery that values curation and rewards its visitors with beautiful exhibitions that juxtapose and contrast individual art pieces so they catch you off-guard and unaware. The Gallery has over 11,000 pieces most notably works by Emily Carr, a local artist whose work heavily is inspired by the First Nation people of the Pacific North West. When we visited, the gallery was hosting “Picasso and his Muses”, a truly engaging exhibition detailing the impact and influence on the master of 6 women with whom he had long term relationships during the arc of his very long artistic life. Vancouver Art Gallery is also a venue and may be rented privately for all manner of business events.
The Rocky Mountaineer Train Station
My former Ovation Canada colleague, Emily Edwards, is now helping Four Seasons market and sell The Rocky Mountaineer Train Station, a wonderfully flexible “black box” venue that takes up to 800 for a formal sit down dinner or up to 1200 for a reception, depending on configuration and requirements. With the large loading doors and high ceilings the venue is versatility incarnate and suitable for all types of Business Events including car shows, galas, fundraisers, fashion shows, meetings, trade shows etc. There is free parking for about 200 cars and 12 bus spots. Best of all catering is by Four Seasons Vancouver so food and beverage is guaranteed to be top notch, in line with the global standards achieved by the hospitality group across all of its operations. With Four Seasons powering the engine and Emily Edwards at the wheel it’s no wonder that The Rocky Mountaineer Train Station has attracted and hosted some of Vancouver’s most high profile and prestigious events.
Cities truly come to prominence as significant Business Events contenders when there’s a smart, proactive and highly creative destination marketing organisation behind it. Vancouver’s current popularity, crystalised by her triumphant hosting of the recent PCMA annual event, is not a random, causal occurrence. Rather it’s the result of hard craft on the part of Tourism Vancouver and its key partners over the years. International #eventprofs interested in understanding how this wonderful city can breathe live and energy into their next business event should reach out to the peerless Michael Drake who has recently taken up the baton as Director of International Sales at the bureau following many successful years on the hotel side in Toronto.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua a specialist agency working with hotels, venues and destinations on strategy, marketing and training for MICE related markets.