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Meetings Sector a Key Driver of Tourism Economy

For five days last July, 1,600 scientists from 52 countries descended on Edmonton for an international botany conference.

They ate, they networked, they visited 23 Alberta attractions on field trips and filled 2,525 guestroom nights at local hotels. Economic impact: over $943,700.

And that’s just one example. Brian Slot, Travel Alberta’s director of Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events (MICE), says MICE business accounts for close to 30 per cent of total tourism expenditures in the province and directly supports 30 per cent of Alberta’s tourism jobs.

“It’s been proven that the face-to-face industry creates jobs, generates business and has long-term community benefits,” he says.

Far-Reaching Impacts

The money spent in Alberta by MICE visitors is just one impact. Once they’ve been to the province, they’re more likely to return as leisure travellers and tell friends and family about their experiences.

Meeting attendees are more likely to suggest Alberta as a destination for other organizations with which they are involved.

Less visible, but equally important, are the residual impacts conferences like Botany 2015 can have on education, research, investment and economic growth.

“Because it’s close to home, more Albertans would have attended the conference,” says Slot. “They had access to some of the best minds in their fields. That networking helps with their professional development, can lead to research grants, investment in their work and opportunities to grow their business.”

What is MICE?

MICE is the segment of the travel industry that revolves around meetings, conventions, exhibitions and events, as well as incentive travel offered to organizations’ top performers.

In 2012, 35.3 million people participated in MICE events in Canada and accounted for $29 billion in direct spending, 1.5 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

Alberta’s meeting volume in 2012 was 14.8 per cent of Canada’s total and attracted 300,000 international participants. It accounted for 1.8 per cent of Alberta’s GDP in 2012.

Travel Alberta’s Role

At Travel Alberta, a team of six dedicated specialists – located in Calgary, Ottawa, the United States and United Kingdom – develop and execute tactical plans to attract MICE business to Alberta.

They work with key networking associations, attend trades shows and proactively reach out to industry groups with synergies to Alberta’s key industries, such as energy, environmental products and services, construction, life sciences, agriculture, finance and logistics.

Groups are enticed by the prospect of access to world leaders in these fields and touring cutting-edge facilities. “We help find associations that are a good fit for Alberta,” says Slot.

The MICE group prospects and often initiates the first interactions with an organization. Once a formal request for proposal is developed, the team gets the destination marketing organizations (DMOs) involved to prepare their bids.

“We really work as a team to support the Alberta DMOs in finding related business and win more meetings,” says Slot.

The process takes time. It took 3.5 years to support the decision of Botany 2015, a joint international conference of 14 scientific societies, to hold its event at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton.

Making the Decision

“Many things come into play when choosing a city,” says Johanne Stogran, director of conferences of the Botanical Society of America. “Affordability, ease of getting there, layout of the venue, price points of the hotels and any concessions offered by the venue.”

Stogran says Edmonton presented the most attractive bid and a key element in her decision was that the University of Alberta was on board.

“Edmonton Tourism did a great job getting me information for the city to send out and put on our website,” she says. “And having one of their people come to our meeting the year before made a nice impression on our attendees and started the buzz for Botany 2015.”

Get Involved

MICE business not only drives a significant amount of Alberta tourism revenue, but it can help fill need periods. Typically meetings and conventions are not held at peak travel times.

They often need to book fairly far in advance, however, and expect some discounts. “Being open to these opportunities is smart, long-term thinking,” says Slot. “The payoff to the travel industry and the province is significant.”

Tourism operators can get involved by being open to MICE business, being part of the bid process and being good ambassadors with their customers in promoting Alberta as a meeting destination.

To learn more about what Travel Alberta is doing in the MICE sector, go to meetings.travelalberta.com.

Travel Alberta