A Q&A with Tara Gordon, SVP of Global Sales & Services, on Global Meetings Industry Day and the importance of the awareness and advocacy that comes out of it.
March 30th is Global Meetings Industry Day, a day to celebrate and advocate for the social and economic benefits that come from hosting conferences, conventions, trade shows, exhibitions, business meetings and incentive travel programs in Canada, and specifically here in Toronto.
This year Toronto will play host to a significant amount of strategic and large-scale citywide conferences (more than 1,500 attendees) and events like Collision, SIBOS, EsportsTravel Summit and more, that will bring vital visitor spending and legacy impact into our community.
Before the pandemic devastated the travel industry, business events were a key driver of the visitor economy, delivering over $1 billion in economic impact in 2019. Despite domestic leisure travel rebounding, international visitation is at only a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels, and business events in 2022 returned to just 36% of 2019 numbers.
Terminal editor Kathy Motton chatted with Tara Gordon, CMP, Senior Vice-President, Global Sales & Services at Destination Toronto, to discuss the impact business events have on the visitor economy, and why everyone who lives or works in Toronto should care.
What an incredible slate of meetings and events Toronto has booked in 2023! Would you say that business events are back?
We’re all keen to see business events fully return to pre-pandemic levels, but unfortunately we’re just not there yet. We are in the midst of one of our busiest citywide events years in history but much of this was booked pre-pandemic, and a significant portion is the result of rebooking. While we have had a few new bookings in 2023, it’s not quite accurate to say that business events are back.
The pandemic significantly shifted booking patterns. Cancelled events and the rebooking of these events disrupted the traditional booking pace. The United States was open earlier and American cities were able to start booking new meetings and events sooner than cities in Canada. Markets and sectors where we have traditionally seen a lot of success have a long booking window and are currently booking for 2026 and beyond.
The pandemic significantly shifted booking patterns. Cancelled events and the rebooking of these events disrupted the traditional booking pace.
As a result of all of this, there are gap years where we are in a pace deficit – meaning bookings are not at the levels they would typically be at given current lead time and pace – specifically in 2024, 2025, and 2026. And where our American peers have a dip in their booking pace, we in Canada have a valley.
What are we doing to try to deal with the gap years, do you think it’s possible to close the gap before we get there?
We are being very strategic and doing everything we can to try to close the gap years. Primarily this means digging into the data and understanding the ideal customer profile for a shorter booking window. For example, corporate bookings tend to be shorter than associations who prefer a longer lead time, and there are some specific market verticals that prefer shorter booking windows.
We are leaning into the attributes of Toronto that make it so special. As businesses prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion and it becomes a key factor in decision-making, the authenticity of Toronto’s multicultural mosaic gives us a competitive advantage. We are also seeing more and more local businesses prioritizing sustainability and finding innovative ways to lessen their impact on the environment. And we have thriving vertical sectors we can lean into, like technology, life science, fintech, advanced manufacturing, and university and research communities. We are fortunate to be able to tell these stories authentically in the RFP process.
We are being very strategic and doing everything we can to try to close the gap years. Primarily this means digging into the data and understanding the ideal customer profile for a shorter booking window.
However, this is also why the awareness being built by Global Meetings Industry Day is so important. We need all levels of government in Canada to recognize that their support is still needed for those hardest hit and that any barriers to recovery must be removed. As an industry, we need to market ourselves aggressively internationally and locally we need to educate the general public on the economic and social benefits of business events.
The pandemic meant many virtual meetings, and there are some that are still hybrid; beyond the visitor economy, why do you think meeting in person is so important?
There is a shared experience that is missing in a virtual environment. A priceless value in human connection and organic conversations, like the unplanned interaction that finds a common thread for future business. Networking, knowledge transfer, collaboration, business development, and the creation of new ideas and community can all happen online, but they are limited when compared to the organic flow that comes from face-to-face engagement.
Specific to our city, in-person meetings provide an opportunity to leverage the intellectual capital that exists here and to feature the vertical sectors where we are leaders. Toronto is home to a passionate community of thought-leaders and innovators that offer considerable value to conference content and support an experience-first event program. Large-scale citywide events like Collision – which saw over 35,000 attendees in 2022 – or the growing Esports sector, spotlights Toronto as the fastest-growing tech hub in North America. Likewise, hosting events like SIBOS helps to highlight the sophistication of our fintech ecosystem and the 2023 ISMRM Scientific Meeting and Exhibition brings attention to our thriving life sciences sector.
Networking, knowledge transfer, collaboration, business development, and the creation of new ideas and community can all happen online, but they are limited when compared to the organic flow that comes from face-to-face engagement.
Best-in-class events like Collision, SIBOS or Esports give Toronto a chance to shine for other future events as attendees get to experience the city’s potential first-hand and sometimes they can even lead to our city being chosen for a company’s new office or research facility. Tourism is an economic engine for the city and province but the indirect impact is immeasurable and can ensure Toronto’s growth and vibrancy into the future.
1 Economic impact is not available for all meetings and 2019-2022 and includes only meeting contracts facilitated by Destination Toronto