And by ‘geeks,’ we mean the influential, moneyed new masters of industry whose presence even at small events is a really big deal for the host cities
As anyone who has seen downtown sidewalks choked with visitors wearing delegate badges can guess, conferences are big business for Vancouver. In 2011, the blockbuster three-day SIGGRAPH graphics and visual effects conference broke the record for largest in Vancouver history with 15,872 attendees, each of whom is estimated to have spent approximately $260 per day. The biggest event so far in 2013 was the 12,200-strong Pacific Dental Conference, and the Vancouver Convention Centre is nearly booked solid for the rest of the year.
Despite these massive numbers and delegates, what got B.C.’s conferences, conventions and meetings industry glowing like a crushing teenager concerns a comparatively small event. February’s announcement that the TED conference was relocating to Vancouver from Long Beach was widely viewed as a coup for Vancouver, despite the event bringing with it only 1,200 delegates. The excitement that followed the TED announcement, however, was not born of anticipation for the money attendees would spend in the city. It was about how Vancouver might be affected in more important ways.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, is famous for its TED Talks, the highly choreographed and expertly produced lectures given at the conference that have been online video sensations for the better part of a decade. These 18-minute performances by Nobel Prize winners, heads of state, a parade of technology innovators and a host of other thought leaders offering “ideas worth spreading” have collectively been viewed online more than a billion times. TED is hailed as the Olympics of ideas and for some its relocation will mean as much for Vancouver’s brand internationally as that other Olympics did.
The move was the result of a 30-minute meeting in December between TED curator Chris Anderson, Canadian Tourism Commission [CTC] senior vice-president of marketing Greg Klassen, Tourism Vancouver CEO Rick Antonson, and Katherine McCartney, TED’s Vancouver director of operations and a longtime friend of Antonson’s. Tourism Vancouver had been courting the conference for many years, but this was the first time Anderson had come to the table ready to negotiate. The deal involves an unspecified cash contribution made over two years from a consortium composed of the CTC, Tourism Vancouver, the Vancouver Convention Centre and the Vancouver Hotel Destination Association. Klassen says the money is intended to cover the cost of building a new space within the Convention Centre that meets Anderson’s exacting standards.
TED’s small size begs the question: why go to such lengths to attract an event that’s a bit more than 10 per cent the expected size of the annual AAO-HNSF and OTO EXPO meeting? Because very few people who are not head-and-neck doctors will care about what happens at that annual meeting. The ideas expressed on stage at TED, however, will be packaged in compelling YouTube videos that will be viewed by millions of people around the world. As its tagline suggests, TED’s content is meant to spread, and when it does, it will carry with it the image of Vancouver as a place where innovative thinking happens. Translation: Coming to Vancouver makes you smarter. So come and visit. Now.