Influential buyers from the European association conference market flew into Scotland today for a weekend event designed to promote the Canadian capital as a host destination for business events.
Ottawa Tourism is hosting a promotional event to attract new conference business to the city as it undertakes a significant million-dollar investment in the European meetings market.
Buyers from organisations in key representative economic sectors of the association conference market, including technology and medical sciences arrived for the three-day event at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.
During their stay, they will be given a ‘taste of Ottawa’ as part of an innovative approach to destination marketing, as the city embarks on a profile-raising exercise after hosting a record-breaking 47 major conventions in 2017.
“It was a busy year for us, for sure, last year as Canada celebrated its 150th birthday and Ottawa was much of the focus of the activities,” said Glenn Duncan, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for Ottawa Tourism.
He said: “We really believe that we’re moving the needle in the European market more than we’ve ever done before. It’s something that we’ve conceived as being a bold opportunity to bring our message to this market in a different way and to meet all of our clients and sectors together at one event.”
Duncan added: “It aligns with our new vision and strategy to put Ottawa on a world stage in a way that’s never been done before. We have been successful in recent years in bringing international conventions to our city for a number of reasons; we have new infrastructure, a convention centre that’s less than 10 years old, an award-winning airport and first-class hotels; it really lends itself to us being more aggressive in the European meetings market.”
Duncan and his colleagues Michael Crockatt, President & CEO of Ottawa Tourism and Lesley Mackay, Director of Meetings and Events, are part of a 12-strong group of staff from the organisation who have taken this “unprecedented” step to travel to organise a familiarisation trip for foreign buyers in a third-party destination.
Duncan added: “We realised there may be some confusion as to ‘why are they here’? But for us it’s about saying we are ‘the same [as Scotland] but different’; we’re also a big deal in Canada, we are the capital of the nation and we’re ready to do business with all of these segments in a bigger way than we have done before. And we’ve sold the event out, so I guess we’ll find out. But the client base over here is noticing us and they’re a savvy buyer.”
He added: “I think we can be so bold to say that this approach hasn’t been tried by another DMO and we’re proud of that. And we’re proud of the fact that we are doing some ground-breaking destination promotion.”
Around 60 guests in total – including Ottawa Tourism – have taken over a large part of the famous Auchterarder venue for the weekend and will indulge in all the activities offered by the resort, including golf, country sports and taking advantage of the relaxing spa facilities.
The event, which will combine networking, education and leisure time, will also include a Canadian dinner with ‘maple glazed chicken’, ‘apple tart’ and a Canadian cocktail, called the ‘Caesar’, which is a twist on the traditional Bloody Mary, but infused with clams.
Guests will also enjoy traditional Scottish country dancing with a ceilidh after dinner on Saturday night. Former Olympic gold-medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury will provide a keynote ‘inspirational speech’ for delegates and two female singer-songwriters from the city will perform for guests and prospective clients will get a ‘destination presentation’ highlighting Ottawa’s unique selling points.
The backdrop to the marketing drive follows ‘several significant association wins’ recently announced by Ottawa Tourism as part of its ongoing campaign to target industry sectors with strong links to the city.
Universities, academics and investment in private sector infrastructure have allowed the city to develop key sectors such as technology, engineering, medical, scientific, academic and commerce.
Recent association wins include the International Conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, slated for 2020, the International Conference on Information Fusion and the International Conference of Wireless for Space and Extreme Environments, both taking place in 2019.
Ottawa has benefited from the opening of a dedicated convention centre – the Shaw Centre, pictured – seven years ago; as a result the city has been able to host events for up to 3,000 delegates. The average ‘sweet spot’ for a business event is in the region of 1,000-1,500 delegates, added Duncan.
Some of the clients and prospects invited to the Gleneagles event include the International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, the International Association of Institutes of Navigation and the International Society for Affective Disorders.
Mackay adds: “We obviously would love to convert all of the clients during the stay but even if we get one or two or three people leaving thinking ‘I’d never really thought about Ottawa’, or if they leave and pick up the phone and take that conversation one step further, it puts us at the front of their minds.”
Ottawa’s investment in the event is based on a traditional destination marketing organisation (DMO) funding model, with broad support from hoteliers and the mayor’s office, but a new 4% tourist tax has been introduced this January will allow the city to ringfence accommodation spend and bring it back into the marketing budget.
“Everybody was on the same page and we were the fastest city in Canada to get it implemented,” adds Crockatt. “It will be a long-term funding source for us.”
Pictured: Michael Crockatt, President & CEO, left, with Lesley Mackay, Director of Meetings and Events, centre, and Glenn Duncan, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, all for Ottawa Tourism.