Q&A: The Impact of TED on Vancouver Meetings

TED Vancouver 2014 Bill Melissa Gates
TED founder Chris Anderson with Bill and Melinda Gates at TED 2014

In 2014, the highly regarded TED and TEDActive conferences moved out of California for the first time, relocating to Vancouver and Whistler, respectively, in celebration of TED’s 30-year anniversary. Previously, the events were held in Long Beach and Palm Springs.

“We thought hard about how to make the 30th-anniversary TED conference truly memorable, and the Vancouver region offers the perfect setting for us,” says TED founder Chris Anderson. “It’s cosmopolitan, energetic, innovative, yet with unrivaled natural beauty. Having Whistler just up the road is an ideal combination, so we’re excited to have found a region that can host both these events so well.”

Aside from the Vancouver/Whistler “Sea to Sky” combo, offering both a major urban and resort environment only 90 minutes apart, the Vancouver Convention Centre was another big draw. The seaside LEED Platinum facility set the benchmark for convention center design in North America when it opened in 2009.

Dave Gazley, VP of meetings and conventions at Tourism Vancouver, says TED brought a new level of energy to Vancouver meetings. For the first time last year, the conference organizers permitted live streaming of the sessions outside the venue in the host destination, but nowhere else.

TED is very strict about who it lets into the sessions, which are already sold out for TED 2015 in March. Only paid registrants are allowed to attend, with few exceptions, including a ban on media and tourism officials.

“You’ve got to be one of those people who are changing the world to get in that door,” says Gazley. “I think what makes TED so special is they do a great job bringing the best and brightest people in the world together at the same place at the same time to try and make the world a better place.”

Hosting TED gives Vancouver a whole new level of exposure to a new global audience, building on the city’s success as host destination for the 2010 Winter Olympics. “TEDsters” are everywhere worldwide, and their population is growing every year due to the volume of inspiring videos available online for free following the events.

“We’ve tried to amplify that in terms of our branding of Vancouver, and how we position Vancouver, by explaining to congress planners that hosting TED is just a natural for us,” says Gazley. “I think we’re fortunate that a lot of planners see us and say, ‘Hey, Vancouver is the home for TED. Well, it must be a cool city with the technology and community that can support an event of that size and scope. And also, if Vancouver and Whistler can host the Olympics, they can certainly host my international organization or my corporation.’”

We also spoke with Gazley about the major trend among tourism and convention bureaus today to collaborate more closely with their economic development organizations and communities to attract important events like TED.

Globally, Vancouver has been leading that trend for some time. While the city is the most beautiful urban metropolis in North America, and Gazley says they obviously showcase that everywhere in the world they can, but for some groups that isn’t always enough. There has to be a business case for coming to the city as well, which in TED’s case were factors such as the city’s strong culture of sustainability and world-leading livability standards that both align well with the TED brand.

Then it becomes Tourism Vancouver’s role as an economic development partner to introduce local business leaders with TED stakeholders and attendees to develop potential new business relationships.

“To be successful today, you have to be integrated with your community on all different levels, and often we insert a second “M” to DMO to create DMMO—destination marketing and management organization,” explains Gazley.

As an example, the International League of Dermatological Societies sent an RFP to Vancouver for their annual conference. So Tourism Vancouver explored all of the dermatology companies and medical associations in Vancouver and B.C. to see how they could bolster their bid. The local area dermatologists and their networks banded together in support of the DMMO, and the city eventually won the bid.

“That conference was really brought about by two or three local dermatologists who really wanted their global professional community to come to Vancouver, while at the same time showcasing their best practices and skill sets here in Vancouver and B.C. and Canada to the world,” says Gazley. “So part of the roles of DMMOs now is to make those connections. We do a great amount of research on making those connections and getting people hooked up together, and a lot of time you can’t even bid for an international congress unless you have a strong local community that wants to do business with that particular industry and wants to host them.”

In the end, the overall goal for Tourism Vancouver is not just bringing people together in Vancouver for an event, and delivering a one-time economic impact to the city. The end goal is building new linkages and long-term relationships that lead to new understanding and new business development.

The very same thing can be said about TED.