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Collision Conference in Toronto to Morph Into Web Summit Vancouver 

Vancouver skyline at sunset from Stanley Park

Skift Take

Is Vancouver the new darling of the tech world? The provincial government is betting on it by partnering with a major conference to lure the tech community. The first of three confirmed editions is set for May 2025.

Web Summit, the company behind the annual tech conference of the same name, said last week that it would launch a substitute event in Vancouver in May 2025. 

“The time has come to transition Collision into Web Summit,” said Paddy Cosgrave, founder and CEO of Web Summit.

The new Web Summit Vancouver was a significant win for Vancouver, beating out competition from Mexico City. Organizers expect the event to generate CA$279 million ($203 million) in economic impact for British Columbia next year. The deal with Vancouver will run for three years.

Web Summit announced the new event just days before its annual Collision conference in Toronto, which opens today. The city has hosted the Collision conference since 2019 

“The new event will continue the company’s mission to support and connect the global technology ecosystem,” the company said in a statement.

The company also highlighted Vancouver’s growth as a hub for technology, with 11,000 tech companies. It cited Dapper Labs, Blockstream, Trulioo, LayerZero Labs, and Visier as “notable unicorns,” meaning startups valued at over $1 billion.

Besides the flagship conference and Web Summit Vancouver and Collision, the company also runs Web Summit Rio, Web Summit Qatar, and RISE – Hong Kong. It also ran a now-defunct conference called SURGE in Bangalore, India, in 2016. It has run several other events, some under multiple brands including the f.ounders brand, some of which preceded the first Web Summit in Dublin in 2009.

Big Win for Vancouver

Michael Drake, director of sales, meetings & conventions, international & Canada at Destination Vancouver, highlighted the win in a LinkedIn post. “There are conference wins, and then there are truly amazing, collaborative bid wins that leave lasting impacts on our city. These victories are especially significant when they boost our tourism economy, drive regional economic development, and foster sector innovation,” he said.

The Canadian government played an important role in securing the event. “Collision has been an incredible success story for Canada’s tech ecosystem. It was exceptionally important to our government to have Web Summit stay in Canada and that Vancouver continue to build on and shape what was created in Toronto,” said the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of Emergency Preparedness and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada (PacifiCan).

“We knew Vancouver was the right place for Web Summit,” said Royce Chwin, president & CEO of Destination Vancouver. “A transformational event of this caliber will continue to build our reputation as an exceptional host city and sharpen Vancouver’s global destination competitiveness. And it will be an economic powerhouse – we anticipate that Web Summit Vancouver will generate CA$172 million ($125 million) in direct spending and CA$279 million ($203 million) in overall economic impact for BC in its first year.“

Vancouver overcame competition from Mexico City, according to one source

Toronto Misses Out

Toronto originally had a three-year deal to host Collision, which began in 2019. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 events were virtual, and the second and third editions were in 2022 and 2023. Last year, Toronto signed a one-year extension to host Collision in 2024. According to one source, this deal was worth $4.5 million (CA$6.7 million).

This final edition will host over 800 speakers, 1,400 media, 1,000 investors, 2,000 exhibiting startups, 340 impact startups, and 300 partners from around the world.

Toronto is losing an event that has arguably helped raise the city’s profile as a tech hub. It’s also missing out on significant economic impact. According to Destination Toronto, between 2019 and 2023, in-person attendance of Collision in Toronto delivered approximately $81 million (CA$112 million) in visitor spending and approximately $137 million (CA$189 million) in economic impact for the city. Next week’s Collision 2024 will bring an estimated further $31 million (CA$42 million) in direct spending and $56 million (CA$77 million) in economic impact.

Destination Toronto’s leadership downplayed the loss and highlighted other significant events that will soon take place in the city. 

“Collision is a Toronto success story as an event that had previously peaked at 10,000 attendees, moved to Toronto, and drew on the depth of our tech, financial and hospitality ecosystem to grow to more than 40,000 attendees over six years,” said Andrew Weir, president and CEO of Destination Toronto. “With the news of the Consensus Conference moving to Toronto next year, among other events that continue to choose Toronto, our community is focused on attracting new events that stimulate visitation, investment and talent attraction as essential economic catalysts.”

Destination and Branding Developments

Lisbon and the Portuguese government will undoubtedly be watching these developments as its current deal worth $128 million for hosting the flagship Web Summit ends in 2028. The deal includes a buy-out clause of $365 million per year should the event move away from Lisbon. For the virtual-only 2020 edition of Web Summit, over 104,000 took part online. Despite no tax or travel-related income benefiting the destination, organizers still collected their annual €11 million fee.

Controversy and boycotts marred the 2023 edition of the Web Summit in Lisbon, stemming from CEO Paddy Cosgrave’s social media posts about the Israel-Hamas war. Cosgrave stepped down just two weeks before the event, with Katherine Maher taking the CEO role. Cosgrave has since re-taken the top leadership role at the company, with Maher taking the CEO role at National Public Radio (NPR).

Organizers appear to be working toward an African event. Cosgrave hinting this in the press statement announcing Web Summit Vancouver. “We are now in four continents and have every intention to bring something to Africa very soon as we continue our ambition to connect the tech world and build meaningful and lasting communities around the world.”

Web Summit is changing its approach to branding new conferences. Its most recent launches, Web Summit Rio and Web Summit Qatar, both use Web Summit in their names. The organizers announced Web Summit Tokyo in 2020 but later canceled the event due to the Covid pandemic. This is a departure from previous events, each with a separate name: Collision, Rise and Surge.

The shift in branding suggests more cohesion between the events but also a dilution of the concept of a flagship event. Organizers highlighted Collision’s rapid growth in its early years with the tagline “America’s fastest growing tech conference” and later “North America’s fastest growing tech conference” used across its marketing. For now, the Lisbon event is the largest, but should any of the company’s other events overtake it in size and scope, the concept of a flagship event may no longer be relevant.

The Collision History

The first Collision event occurred in Downtown Las Vegas in May 2015 and attracted 7,500 attendees. This was the company’s first major event outside of Dublin, Ireland. Web Summit has its roots in the Irish capital. It held the first six editions of Web Summit there before moving to Lisbon for the 2016 edition. It announced the deal to move to Lisbon in September 2015, two months ahead of Web Summit 2015.

Collision moved to New Orleans, LA, in 2016, attracting more than 11,000 attendees. It remained in the Big Easy for two further editions, gathering 20,000 in 2017 and nearly 25,000 in 2018.

In 2019, the conference moved to Toronto. It cited visa issues in the U.S., Toronto’s appeal as a tech hub, and an exodus from Silicon Valley as the main reasons for the move. The move proved popular and organizers even oversold exhibition space at one point. The first edition attracted just over 25,000 attendees, similar to the last edition held in New Orleans.

Like many other conferences, the 2020 edition of Collision pivoted to virtual and to become “Collision from Home.” The online event attracted 32,000 attendees, and organizers transferred tickets to the 2021 edition. The following edition was also virtual and attracted more than 38,000 attendees. For both conferences, the company doubled down on its tech offering. It built its own mobile event app designed to offer a “second screen” experience.

2022 marked the return of the in-person experience in Toronto, Canada. That year, more than 35,000 attendees were present in the city. The 2023 event grew to over 36,000. Organizers are projecting over 40,000 attendees for the final edition of Collision that opens today.

Photo credit: Mike Benna / Unsplash