Convention centers may already be the top venue choice for many events, but they can be so much more than just the practical default option. Discover three ways to leverage your venue partnership for an unforgettable event experience.
This content was created collaboratively by Tourism Calgary and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.
With ample space and amenities, convenient location and accessibility, and the availability of nearby hotels, convention centers have long been the go-to choice for meeting and event planners. However, at a time when attendees are seeking immersive, authentic experiences that are unique to the destination and event itself, planners need to look beyond the practicalities and partner with destinations and convention centers that are able to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience.
How can you take the blank canvas of a big venue and paint an unforgettable portrait for your next event? Skift Meetings caught up with two event organizers to learn how the environment at the Calgary TELUS Convention Center (CTCC) helped them unleash new possibilities for their programs.
1. Get Creative With the Space
Planning an event typically starts with thinking about numbers — exhibit hall square footage, number of breakout rooms, and overall capacity. While the size of the space may be set in stone, there are opportunities for innovation at every corner and in every room. Consider Inventures, a three-day program hosted by Alberta Innovates at the CTCC. This bustling convention connects entrepreneurs, thought leaders, startup visionaries, and investors. Matching the energy of the audience of disruptors and game-changers, the main stage design features bold lighting that feels less like a convention and more like an immersive carnival atmosphere.
“We push the edge with stage design, branding opportunities, and entertainment elements,” Marlene Arana, director of events and sponsorships at Alberta Innovates, told Skift Meetings.
Exhibitors at the event take a cue from the organizers, too. For example, Sombilon Studios and ATB Financial hosted an anti-gravity experience at the 2023 edition of the event. “Our audience wants to see something that’s innovative and has some ‘wow-ism’ as I like to call it,” Arana said.
It’s clear that the focus on wow-ism is paying off: Inventures has been on an impressive growth trajectory and attracted record attendance numbers in 2023.
2. Bring in Local Partners
Inventures has a true global impact: Attendees from 32 countries came to Calgary in 2023. However, the designing and planning processes are centered on a local approach.
“It takes a community [to produce this kind of event],” Arana said, highlighting the importance of working with the city’s travel, tourism, and hospitality leaders to welcome the world to Alberta.
Bringing “in” local partners doesn’t necessarily mean inviting them into the convention center, either. Instead, it means extending the environment out into the neighboring community. Arana said that she works closely with the Calgary Downtown Association of Calgary to partner with the businesses that surround the venue. “We’re now spilling over to rooftops that are attached to the CTCC and on to Stephen Avenue,” Arana said.
In 2024, Inventures is planning a silent disco on the pedestrian walkway outside the convention center. And when attendees are ready to make some noise, they can leverage the “Love Your Lanyard” program, a CTCC initiative that allows attendees to access discounts at nearby restaurants and bars simply by showing their conference badges.
3. Tell Your Event’s Story
An event is more than a moment in time. It’s an opportunity to craft a compelling narrative about the audience, their reasons for coming together, and their big-picture vision. Chance Bellegarde, an artist and the owner of Red Man Customs, saw a chance to provide a wider platform for Indigenous artists by launching the Indigenous Art Market in 2023 at the CTCC.
“We wanted to host an event that would bring people together in a space that would disrupt the status quo of traditional spaces for Indigenous people to gather and share their art and culture on a world-class stage,” Bellegarde told Skift Meetings.
For the team at the convention center, the inaugural Indigenous Art Market was more than a new event. It represented an important role in turning a land acknowledgement — recognition that the venue is located on Treaty 7 territory — into real action.
“The team at the CTCC were as enthusiastic about our vision and recognized their role in and ability to take action in the true spirit of Truth & Reconciliation,” Bellegarde said.
Convention services should ideally act as true partners in executing an event’s vision and staying true to the larger narrative every step of the way. Bellegarde added that the CTCC team “really went above and beyond in ensuring our time and experience there was unforgettable.”
“They just got it,” he said. “Something as simple and meaningful as being able to engage in our traditional practices of smudging [a sacred practice that involves burning of herbs or plants to cleanse the soul] without having to feel like it was an issue made such a difference.”
The timing of the inaugural market was especially important; it was held during the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day event filled with western culture, music, food, and community spirit. While the market was an opportunity for Bellegarde and more than 50 Indigenous artists to tell their stories, it equally represented a chance for Calgarians and the city’s visitors to partake in this cultural experience. More than a marketplace, it was a key educational opportunity to share the culture and history of the Indigenous peoples of the region.
“Calgary is so much more than Wranglers and cowboy hats 10 days out of the year,” Bellegarde said. “It is a place where people come from all over to create a home, start a family, or start/grow a business. It is filled with innovation, culture, and community.”
Finding a Team You Can Count On
The building itself is only part of the puzzle for planning a successful event. The team inside it is equally crucial.
“From start to finish, [the convention center] team made us feel in control,” Bellegarde said of the inaugural Indigenous Art Market. “We felt that the skies were the limit, which really allowed us to expand our vision for the event. Nothing seemed far out of reach; even when timelines were tight and we were making changes on the fly, the CTCC’s team just made things happen and when it couldn’t be done, they were there to guide us in coming up with agreeable solutions.”
Arana echoed the same sentiment, calling the approach “a concierge level of service.”
“I feel important and valued,” Arana said. “The convention center team wants to be part of a hive mind and create together. They are open to just having a discussion of what is a blue-sky opportunity. It’s always helpful to have that sort of mindset.”
This spirit of hospitality is central to the wider culture of Calgary, a major hub of business that maintains a small-town, friendly atmosphere. In fact, Calgary was recently voted the friendliest city in the world by a CN Traveller poll. “The airport is fantastic for those 32 countries that attended for Inventures,” said Arana. “It’s a hub and so you’re able to connect with different regions, individuals, and partners very easily.”
To learn more about hosting your next meeting at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre, click here.