Canada: The insider's view

Who better to give the lowdown on Canada's potential than two of its UK-based exiles? Yasmin Arrigo quizzes a corporate and agency buyer on their homeland's C&I strengths.

Andrew Latta, head of corporate events and hospitality at Aviva, was born in Summerside, raised in Edmonton and graduated from the University of Alberta in 1991. He moved to London in 1998.

- As a true insider, what do you see as Canada's USP as a destination?

Canada has an incredible amount to offer the events industry. The main up side for Canada as a destination is the huge variety of the experiences visitors can enjoy. Each province has something different to offer that is not available anywhere else in the world. The main downside is that many planners still don't have the knowledge of what they can experience and how different it is from its neighbour down south.

- Which city holds the best appeal for conferences?

The top ones for me are Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Quebec City and Toronto. But don't forget the rural areas. Banff National Park, the area outside of Calgary, northern Ontario, the lakes in Manitoba, salmon fishing outside of Vancouver ... you name it, Canada has it.

- What is your favourite property in Canada?

There are too many to choose from. I love the Fairmont properties. They're the old CP hotels that were built at the turn of the century in every major city.

- What is your favourite restaurant?

Canoe in Toronto is fab - great food, better views, but it comes at a price.

- Do you have a top tip for other organisers?

If you're there in the winter make sure you dress warm. Take loads of mosquito repellent if you're there in the summer.

John Walker, managing director of Oxford International, was born in Toronto and has worked in three Canadian cities, including stints at the Skyline Hotel and Wardair before moving to the UK

- As a true insider, what do you see as Canada's USP as a destination?

It is clean, accessible, modern and multi-cultural. It has all the benefits of North America - without the hassles.

- Have you organised events in Canada and if so, in which region?

Yes, in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, Calgary and Banff. Next month, we have a pharma client going out to Montreal for an event linked to a congress taking place there.

- Which area do you think is best for incentives?

Vancouver, Whistler, and the Rockies are naturals, but great alternatives are Quebec - especially Quebec City - and the Atlantic provinces.

- What is your favourite property in Canada?

The Empress in Victoria for cream tea, the Ritz-Carlton Montreal for class, the Four Seasons in Toronto for superb quality and location, and Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City - it looks like a castle and is in every picture of Quebec.

- What is your favourite restaurant in Canada?

Canada is a multi-cultural country, so the culinary offerings are vast, and offer excellent quality and value. There are more than 5,000 restaurants in Toronto alone, not counting fast-food outlets. I know Toronto pretty well, and really like smaller restaurants with live music.

- How has the tourist board evolved?

The CTC has been developing its business tourism offering in the UK market with a pretty useful C&I microsite on its website. I do worry that it may have arrived a little late to the party in terms of marketing the destination. Overall, I think there is still a little too much emphasis on the 'typically Canadian' tourist message - clear blue skies, lakes, mountains, canoes, skiing, the great outdoors, even a moose! This can all be used for promoting pure incentives, but more needs to be done for meeting, conference and association markets to attract this business to Canada. And generally, I would like to see Canada being sold first as a complete destination - then the individual regions and cities. I think there is a tremendous opportunity right now to capitalise on the exchange rate and really grow volume from the UK, so I hope they take a targeted approach and engage with the UK buyers.

- Do you have any advice for Canadian suppliers looking to target UK buyers?

Do your research, target the relevant agencies/buyers and use a rifle on them - not a shotgun on the entire UK marketplace - and position Canada as mid-haul, easily accessible and great value.

- Do you have a top tip for other organisers?

If you are presenting Canada as an option, highlight the safe, clean, modern, great value aspects and get clients' attention. Then sell the quality, diversity, exciting options and so on. There still seems to be a perception problem regarding Canada, as clients often pick Chicago, Boston or the other US cities instead, as they think of the safe, clean image of Canada, and then think that it lacks a buzz. Canadians are generally pretty humble and not very good at pushing the 'sizzle' factor, so you will have to sell it.

VENUE UPDATE

Canada's luxury hotel stock is on the rise. In Toronto alone, a slew of five-star openings in the next 12 months will include properties from Hazelton, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and the much awaited Trump Tower. Beyond the city, chains such as Starwood and Fairmont are extending their upscale brands with much of the investment drive in British Columbia and, specifically, around Vancouver ahead of the 2010 Winter Olympics. C&IT highlights the hotels worth waiting for.

- Le Westin Montreal

Located across from the Montreal Convention Centre, Le Westin Montreal will be situated within the bustling Quartier International, a new urban area positioned between the city's business district and Old Montreal. Offering 423 rooms and 30 suites, plus four floors of executive rooms, the hotel will open in 2009 and provide 2,690m2 of meeting space with a grand ballroom on the top floor offering views of the Montreal skyline. www.starwoodhotels.com

- Thompson Toronto

2009 sees the uber-hip US boutique hotel group make its debut in Canada. The 102-room property will feature a rooftop pool and bar, available for private hire, overlooking Toronto's fashion district. www.thompsonhotels.com

- Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver

The luxury hotelier Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts enters the North American market in January 2009 with the Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver. The 119-room property will occupy the first 15 stories of Vancouver's tallest building and will feature a 600m2 Tibetan-themed spa and a sculpture galleria curated by the Vancouver Art Museum. The group will also open a property in Toronto in 2011. www.shangri-la.com

- Loden Vancouver

Set to open this summer as the city's first new-build hotel in five years, Loden Vancouver is located between Stanley Park and the main business district. It is the first Canadian property by Kor Hotel Group, the company behind Maison 140 in Beverley Hills, and will offer 70 rooms, six suites and a 'rock star penthouse', which can be hired for groups of 60 or used as a private dining space for 20. www.lodenvancouver.com

- Fairmont Pacific Rim Vancouver

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is maintaining its grip on the market with the development of six new properties in British Columbia alone. Set to be the flagship, the Fairmont Pacific Rim Vancouver is now rising in Coal Harbour and the 415-room behemoth is slated to open in autumn 2009. www.fairmont.com

DIRECTORY CANADA
Canadian Tourism Commission
Contact: Jadis Tillery, 020 7389 9989
Email: tillery.jadis@ctc-cct.ca
Web: www.ctc-cct.ca

DON'T MISS ...

- Culture in Toronto Canada's largest city offers music, ballet and opera, plus the 70 nationalities living there means the best cuisine in the country

- Cowboys of Calgary Alberta is home to the raw beauty of the Rockies and the Badlands desert, but visitors in July can enjoy the Calgary stampede - a Wild West fest

- Adventure in BC

- Ski in the morning, play golf in the afternoon and then set off on a whale-watching expedition before wine-tasting at dusk.

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