Canada is looking to further strengthen its MICE sector by promoting an exciting new initiative, called the Unicorn Event Initiative, to help raise awareness among government organisations of large-scale, renowned events that work with the country’s centres of excellence.

“Meetings Mean Business Canada” is an organisation that works with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and Destination Canada Business Events. In a recent interview, the organisation asked Virginie De Visscher, senior director of business development, economic sectors at Destination Canada, to highlight how important the Unicorn Event Initiative is for Canada’s MICE industry.

The initiative was given its unique title in reference to the term “unicorn” used in the finance world to describe companies valued at over US$1 billion.

In an interview with “Meetings Mean Business Canada” De Visscher said: “This type of company is said to be a unicorn because of the rarity of achieving this status.”

According to Destination Canada, a “unicorn event” belongs to a class of large-scale conferences that have achieved a world-renowned status and produce well-documented, tangible, economic and social benefits for host countries. For example, Destination Canada already knows that direct spending by delegates attending a 3,000-person conference represents roughly $4 million in spending for hotels, food, retail and so on.

To qualify as a “unicorn event” an international conference must seek to achieve meaningful, long-term outcomes aligned with at least one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. “The reason why this is so important is because we live in a post-Covid era where climate change is top of mind, and there is a stronger need to justify bringing thousands of people together in one place for a conference,” adds De Visscher.

Ottawa Convention Centre along the Canal Rideau (Photo : © Destination Canada)

Canadian targets

As every city dreams to host this type of event, being successful in hosting them is not an easy task. And this is what the Unicorn Event Initiative is made for, starting with domestic events in Canada.

In the interview, De Visscher explains that bidding for that kind of mega-event requires significant funding and committed federal support. “Working closely with destination partners across the country, we developed a wish list of approximately two dozen world-renowned events. These cover the six key economic sectors that Canada holds a global competitive advantage in: technology, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, natural resources, and finance and insurance. All events are slated to take place between 2023 and 2032,” she explained.

These events formed the basis for an educational initiative with federal government partners that focus on highlighting the value of hosting international conferences in Canada. The initiative looks to outreach to decision makers at the political (Ministers’ office) and bureaucratic (Deputy Ministers’ office) level. A team then communicates specific hosting opportunities within relevant federal government departments. “We divided these target events into the sector they fall under. For example, we present our target life sciences events to Health Canada, agri-business events to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, natural resources events to Natural Resources Canada and so on,” she added.

Prestigious venue for conferences in Canada: Château Montebello in Quebec (Photo : © Destination Canada- Jacques Boissinot)

A catalyst for economic prosperity

Unicorn events could become catalysts for stimulating economic recovery in Canada, in the wake of Covid-19. This is especially the case for major urban centres across the country, which have been some of the hardest hit areas, as it has the potential to bring new business to hotels, restaurants, conference centres and more.

“Additionally, these events can drive cross-sector collaboration and innovation, attract international talent, spark new R&D partnerships, promote trade and open the door to new investment opportunities. They can also inspire delegates to return in the future as leisure visitors or even as residents. In short, unicorn events can leave a lasting legacy across Canada’s urban centres,” said De Visscher.

The ultimate goal is to raise widespread awareness. The Destination Canada Business Event Economic Sector Strategy focuses on attracting global conferences within the already mentioned six priority economic sectors and highlights the importance of leveraging international conferences,” explained De Visscher.

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