Destination Innovation: Why Tech Hubs Matter to Meeting Pros

Meeting planners are turning to cities that are attracting new business sectors and investing in innovation.

You have a choice: You can hold your conference in a city that is building a culture of innovation in a bid to attract startups and cutting-edge industry, or one that’s not. A bit of a no-brainer, right?

A city’s startup culture extends well beyond business sector or office neighborhood. These fledgling businesses often take advantage of their area’s research institutes, colleges and universities, and general city amenities to excel and grow. Each entity feeds and pushes the other. And that halo effect tends to attract visitors of all types.

Meetings and conventions are a part of this innovation mix.

“Conventions driving innovation in … demand sectors deliver companies and associations to a city’s doorstep,” according to the report Defining Conventions as Urban Innovation and Economic Accelerators from Skift for Meetings Mean Business. “Therefore, convention bureaus, governments, economic development professionals, academics, and researchers have face-to-face access with industry leaders to develop new business relationships, investments, research, and priority sector innovations.”

Case in Point: Vancouver

Northern neighbor to Silicon Valley and Seattle, Vancouver has also earned a reputation as a tech hub. “A tech boom in Canada’s third-largest city has pulled in tens of thousands of skilled workers and start-up entrepreneurs in recent years,” according to a recent article on the city in the Financial Times. Indeed, Vancouver has been on people’s radars for a few years. In 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek anointed the city “the new tech hub.”

According to a recent report from Startup Genome and the Global Entrepreneurship Network, Vancouver ranks No. 1 in Canada—and 15th in the world—for business and technology innovation. Companies as varied as Hootsuite, Avigilon, Slack, Goldcorp, Lionsgate Entertainment, and EA Sports call the city home.

For planners, this means opportunities for unique partnerships, which are largely embraced by the city’s business community. In fact, the city has created Be a Host, an alliance of local industry leaders dedicated to advancing research, knowledge, and innovation in their respective fields by helping associations hold their meetings in Vancouver.

“Many local hosts come from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, so we have strong ties with these iconic Canadian learning institutions,” said Nicole Havers, marketing manager, meetings and conventions, at Tourism Vancouver. “We often connect meeting planners with universities, centers of excellence, and leading research facilities. This enables delegates to collaborate within their field of expertise.”

Cindy Stark, associate director of Chicago-based association management firm SmithBucklin Corporation, has held two 15,000-attendee annual meetings in Vancouver for ACM SIGGRAPH—a special interest group of the Association for Computing Machinery.

“The 2011 conference received such high marks from our attendees that SIGGRAPH changed their rotation so they could return to Vancouver for the 2014 conference,” Stark said. “The conference will be returning to Vancouver again in 2018. The city and facilities are amazing; everyone is friendly and helpful.”

Tourism Vancouver has helped her make each of these meetings a success. “They were always very responsive and helpful with whatever information was needed,” she said.

Last year, Vancouver was ranked the top convention city in Canada and second in North America in Watkins Research Group’s biennial Meeting and Convention Planners Survey. The rankings are based on responses from about 900 industry planners globally. For more information about planning your next conference in the city, visit

(Handout photo)