Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, who is the Executive Director, Business Events, Destination Canada, is a visionary, strategic and thought-provoking thinker in the meetings and event industry. Also, she is the person leading Destination Canada Business Events sector strategy to attract global events to the country.

The major cities in Canada had the know-how to pursue international association business with in-market representatives or budgets. Canada is a huge country with around twenty-five cities in the meetings and conventions loop, but until Chantal Sturk-Nadeau implemented the economic sector strategy, attracting business events to Canada wasn’t always a level playing field.

“When we began looking at who was aligned to Destination Canada programs, and who was seeing real value with what we offered, we realised we needed to adjust our approach so that DMOs (Destination Management Organisations) with strengths in Canada’s leading sectors had an opportunity to participate in bids for global events,” says Chantal Sturk-Nadeau.

“At the same time, we evaluated how we could leverage Destination Canada’s strengths in research, marketing, IT and communications. The result is a comprehensive strategy that spotlights our partner DMOs, their industry strengths, and in which we amplify using the resources of Destination Canada’s marketing machine.

“We started by hiring the right people. Year one, we conducted an environmental survey, reaching out to our DMO partners and their economic development agencies to assess which centres aligned with Canada’s national sector priorities.”

From there, Chantal Sturk-Nadeau hired Virginie De Visscher, Senior Director of Economic Development Sectors. She works closely with Invest in Canada and Global Affairs Canada, and with their trade commissioners around the world to identify business event opportunities aligned with Canada’s priority sectors: advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, life sciences, natural resources and technology.

“We don’t care where the business opportunities come from, geographically speaking. Our strategy is global by design, and intentionally without borders. You could be coming out of Singapore or Australia it doesn’t matter to us. If you attend the International Microbiology Conference as a large corporation or an association, we’ll pursue it.

“We’ve changed our HR model and have hired three more business development managers for Canada. They are based in Canada close to the ministers and the sector ecosystems. The managers are well versed in their field.”

“Our strategy is global by design, and intentionally without borders”

The natural resources business development manager (BDM) for example, is based in Alberta, in the heart of the oil and gas sector, the tech BDM is based in Montréal, a global centre of excellence in technology, and AI specifically.

“Our approach utilises the meetings and conventions industry as a catalyst to help grow Canada’s economy. If we can bring conferences to our country, then it will help grow our economy as well as their organisation.”

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau says they have faced three main challenges creating the future of business events in Canada.

“Uncertainty remains one of our greatest challenges. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the need for flexible marketing strategies. While our approach remains adaptable to the changing circumstances presented by the pandemic, we must also remain mindful that when in-person business events resume, the marketplace will be a very crowded space.”

The second challenge will be to seek out the “blue ocean space”, where no others are playing, to solidify Canada’s place on the global stage.

“Part of our strategy to do this, and what I’d say is our third challenge, is the need to break down borders. Rather than focus our marketing strategies exclusively on geographic boundaries and markets, we will instead organise our marketing activities by economic sector, and pursue global opportunities regardless of where they exist, geographically speaking. This will allow us to take a more strategic, targeted approach to business development focused on Canada’s leading sectors.”

The pandemic provided Business Events Canada with the opportunity to pause and reflect on the industry, their role within it, and evaluate what their partners and customers most needed from them.

“We have spent the last number of months investing in market research to support our economic sector strategy so that when full-fledged marketing resumes our partners will be armed with the most robust business intelligence, we can provide.

“If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the need for flexible marketing strategies”

“Similarly, we have conducted and will continue to conduct, focus groups and survey research to truly understand our customer’s needs and look for recovery signals.

“That sort of intelligence is invaluable for Canada’s business events communities as it helps inform their marketing strategies going forward. We want to ensure we are working towards a resilient industry and providing our clients with what they need to host safe, successful and meaningful events in a postpandemic world.”

On the question of how important sustainability is for developing business events in Canada, Chantal Sturk-Nadeau answers it is incredibly important.

It all adds up: from the distance delegates fly to attend an event, to the volumes of paper, food and plastics consumed in the process of educating and entertaining an audience, to the energy consumed in powering A/V and digital exhibit displays.

“Meetings can have an enormous impact on the environment. Organisers today seek destinations, venues and delegate experiences that promote a clean and healthy environment, support local communities and leave a positive legacy impact on their host community.”

Canada offers planners plenty of choices, including green infrastructure, LEED-certified meeting venues such as the Double Platinum LEED-certified Vancouver Convention Centre, sustainably-run conference centres, including five Canadian venues certified to the ASTM standard. Also, Canada offers certified food harvesting programs such as the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program and even entire communities such as Montréal which is certified as a sustainable host city.

“Our government is focused on the growing demand for our resources that can be met without compromising the environmental, social, economic and cultural needs of current and future generations, the same holds for our business events communities. Our goal is to support destinations in growing their share of business events in a sustainable way.”

International business events delegates spend, on average, 20–25 per cent more than other foreign visitors. International business delegates have grown at twice the pace of overall visitation over the last four years, while expenditure has increased five times faster.

“Our approach utilises the meetings and conventions industry as a catalyst to help grow Canada’s economy”

The business events sector also claims that economic activity well beyond directly measurable metrics, underpinning knowledge creation and exchange, innovation and investment, among other positive impacts, economic value referred to as “beyond tourism” benefits. International business events bring global expertise, and world-best practises to Canada. How important is this for your country?

“The legacy benefits of business events is at the heart of our business development strategy. Part of what we are doing at is measuring the economic impact of business events so that we can fully understand their true value to Canada’s economy.”

Leading innovators in advanced sectors have a role to play in driving the future of business events’ long-term economic growth and helping to create resilient communities.

“Providing access to Canadian knowledge and expertise is the best value proposition we know of to drive the future of business events and foster long-term economic growth. Canada is not alone in applying an economic sector strategy to their business event attraction, but our strategy is one of the world’s largest in scale and scope.”

Business Events Canada work with their destination partners on a monthly pace report which tracks definite events, delegate numbers, and the direct spending associated with events held in their jurisdictions.

“As part of our Response-Recovery-Resilience approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, we report on the economic impact of lost business events.”

The latest impact report published in September shows that of the business events planned between 2020 and 2026, Destination Canada estimates that the total losses to the sector since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic include 3,668 events, 1.55 million delegates and nearly $1.31 billions in direct spending.

These losses include both definite and tentative events. International events lost represent 27 per cent of this total with more than 594,000 delegates and nearly $781.28 million in direct spending.

“You can see from these statistics the economic impact business events have on Canada’s economy.

“Strong networks and even stronger relationships are critical to our success. We take a Team Canada approach with our economic sector strategy by collaborating with our network of 27 destination partners and their economic development agencies to identify each jurisdiction’s leading economic sectors and their unique value propositions.

“As part of this process, we have developed a suite of collateral for the economic sectors which spotlight our leading destinations and their outstanding strengths in their specific subsectors.

“We have spent the last number of months investing in market research to support our economic sector strategy”

“We have also created knowledge maps and business intelligence reports by sector. Combined, this is a comprehensive compendium of information that is constantly being updated as new information comes available.”

Each of the business development managers comes from an economic development and business attraction background, so they are accustomed to collaborating with multiple stakeholders within their specific area of expertise.

“With the help of our industry partners, our team researches the influencers, sector champions, researchers, businesses, and members of professional associations all across Canada to stay up-to-date on the latest innovations in our priority sectors.

“This is no small undertaking, the volume of research required to map out the connections between Canada’s industry leadership and prospective business event opportunities are vast, but it’s this sort of market intelligence that helps set our partners up for success when a bid opportunity arises.”

The business events team also builds relationships with C-suite executives, members of Canada’s Global Affairs in-market teams, and representatives of international associations affiliated with their leading sectors around the globe.

Chantal Sturk-Nadeau states their conversations seldom start with tourism or conference infrastructure. Instead, through their research and prospecting activities, they seek to understand how Team Canada can help prospective association customers increase their revenues and how corporations can grow their businesses.

“Also, how we can add to their outstanding value proposition and memberships, how to expand the knowledge of their delegates, and how their best practices can be shared with a wider audience at events in Canada.

“This multi-faceted approach evolves with each new opportunity. Sharing our learnings with our Canadian network, and adapting our strategy is an important component of our collaborative process.”

If we look five, ten years ahead in time for business events in Canada, what does Chantal Sturk-Nadeau forsee?

“While signs of recovery remain uncertain, we are striving to create resiliency within our business event community. Our latest Covid-19 Business Events Impact Report with data from August 31, 2020, shows business travel for in-person sales and client meetings will return first, and resilient sectors, such as life sciences, financial services and technology are anticipated to be the first to travel.

“Leading innovators in advanced sectors have a role to play in driving the future of business events’ long-term economic growth”

“We are keeping a close eye on the trends in those sectors to evaluate the implications for business events.”

Using the tech sector as an example: Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) can have implications for a variety of industries, including business events by spurring on the need for conferences to establish policies, regulations, guidelines for the use of AI technology.

Or, it could create a need for trade shows and exhibitions to engage tech innovators with distributors. Or AI advancements could generate demand for continuing education/(re)-certification workshops. Or top sellers of a specific technology could be rewarded with an incentive trip to Canada.

“Monitoring these trends and evaluating the implication for business events will be a key focus going forward.

“Our research is showing that industry experts believe that an announcement of an effective vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 will spark confidence in travelling for business purposes. We remain committed to international business development and marketing efforts to keep Canada top of mind as event organisers adapt their research, planning and hosting efforts.

“I mentioned that there is a lot of uncertainty in the world today, but what we know with certainty: business events, when they are aligned with a destination’s sector strengths and outstanding value propositions, have the power to fuel economic resilience within the host organisation, within a community, and within the sector itself.”

Business Events Canada is committed to keeping Canada top-of-mind in the global marketplace until the time is right for international business events to resume.

“While we wait for that day, we will continue to lift our communities by sharing stories of innovation, ingenuity and inspiration.

“Also, we will continue to spotlight the Canadian innovators and entrepreneurs who are making significant contributions to life sciences, technology, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness and natural resources industries.

“We will remind the world that Canadians are both resilient and welcoming and that we will be ready to meet in person again when the time is right.”