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Convention business growing

Winnipeg will see big upswing

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What the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg should eventually look like.

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What the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg should eventually look like.

The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) / Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism (CSEM) will hold the largest conference in Winnipeg in the last five years next October and tourism officials hope it's the sign of bigger things to come.

The CDA/CSEM's 17th annual professional conference will bring in about 2,300 delegates to the Winnipeg Convention Centre from Oct. 22-25, 2014.

"The economic spinoffs for the city are tremendous, with an estimated $2.3 million in direct spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping, attractions and more," says Marina R. James, president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.

Work has begun on the $180-million, three-storey addition to the convention centre, adding another 340,000 square feet to the existing 492,000-square-foot facility but it's still too early for Tourism Winnipeg and the convention centre to go after bookings for 2016-17 when the expansion -- to be called RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg -- is to be completed.

But according to Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, senior vice president of Tourism Winnipeg, it's important to start getting traction.

And although the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) will not host large conferences, it will definitely be a lure to organizations, especially large Canadian groups that traditionally would cycle their conference between only three or four of the largest Canadian cities.

"Even though the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is now not going to be open until 2014, five years ago we were telling people it was opening in 2012," said Sturk-Nadeau, referring to the originally scheduled opening date. "But since they're here, over the next few years they will see the development and then they will want to come back again."

The convention business is very lucrative -- delegates spend four times more than typical leisure travellers -- and also very competitive.

"Every city fights for the convention delegate," Sturk-Nadeau said. "They all want to know what's new this time that wasn't there five years ago."

That's why new hotel properties and major attractions like the CMHR are significant elements to get in place to fill up the new convention space coming on line.

The addition to the downtown facility will mean the city will have the capacity to host more and even larger conventions.

While 2012 was a slow year for city-wide conferences and conventions -- ones with more than 500 delegates that require the use of at least three hotels -- things are picking up this year. Last year, there were only four large conferences; this year there will more than twice that many.

The city is also benefiting from a coordinated community support program called Bring it Home which encourages locals to advocate Winnipeg as the city of choice for their national or international association meetings.

Brian Scharfstein, a Canadian pedorthist specializing in diabetes footcare and also president of Canadian Footwear and current chairman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, helped secure the CDA conference.

Sturk-Nadeau said local women law enforcement officers helped land the 600-delegate International Association of Women Police conference next year; Stephanie Forsythe, the president of Red River College used her influence to attract the Association of Canadian Community Colleges conference with its 1,000 delegates for 2015; and officials from Winnipeg-based APTN helped lure the World Indigenous Broadcasters for next June, who were originally intending to hold their conference in Vancouver.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2013 B6

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