Meeting and event bookings in Canada are 55 percent of pre-pandemic, and the critical five-year booking window for larger gatherings is 47 percent causing major concern for cities and event venues nationwide.
Forty percent of Canada’s overall tourism industry comprises meetings and events representing a direct economic impact of $41 billion, supporting 229,000 jobs. Business has yet to return to where it was pre-pandemic, with bookings at 55 percent and large gatherings that usually book five years out at 47 percent. As business sputters, the industry is joining together to fight back.
Meetings Mean Business Canada Coalition (MMBC) advocates on behalf of the meetings industry. It aims to communicate the industry’s meaningful social and economic impact to government officials and industry stakeholders.
“Many members of Parliament didn’t know how to describe our sector before the pandemic, referring to the business events industry as banquet halls. When business halted, they got a better understanding and how detrimental the slowdown was to the overall economy,” said Laura Pallotta, regional vice president of sales and distribution – Canada region for Marriott International and chair of MMBC.
She also points out that meeting and incentive attendees spend an average of $843, more than the average leisure traveler.
Along with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, MMBC secured $50 million from the Canadian federal government. The funds will be managed by Destination Canada over three years to attract international meetings and events.
“This is a big win for our sector. MMBC will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to see this through and help restore business events to at least pre-pandemic levels and hopefully reset a path to growth in the coming years,” said Pallotta.
“We are building now for future years,” she added. “We must also demystify the process of getting into Canada for planners and demonstrate how favorable the exchange rate is. The visa process is also not difficult.”
As many experienced meeting professionals either retired or quit during the pandemic, a reset is taking place. “There are so many meeting planners who are very new to their job, and we have this entire group of folks we need to train and educate and build relationships with,” said Pallotta.
Canada only fully reopened its borders in October of 2022, after being closed for more than two years. This added to the booking delay. “Business came back briskly fueled by pent-up demand and the rebooking of those canceled programs,” said Pallotta.
Bookings for future years are slowly picking up as international planners regauge trends and new attendance norms.
Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, is encouraged by what she sees. “Because of the booking cycle, we should see our business events return to 2019 levels by 2026. We are starting to gain momentum,” she said.
Rendez-vous Canada, a buyer-seller tourism marketplace, is being held entirely in person this year — the first time in three years. The gathering at the Quebec City Convention Centre is co-produced by Destination Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. It aims to showcase the best of the country and hosts around 50,000 meetings between buyers and tourism operators.
“We are excited to demonstrate what makes Canada special and why it is an ideal spot for a meeting or incentives,” said Potter.