This article is sponsored by ThinkOttawa.
Despite the ongoing restrictions on large in-person gatherings, local and provincial associations are finding creative ways to host their conferences and events – and managing to bring Ottawa to their attendees, even from a distance.
While several groups were scheduled to bring trade shows and conventions to the city in the first half of 2020, many were forced to postpone or outright cancel due to the pandemic. Others, however, are proceeding with their events in new formats.
As restrictions on gatherings are eased, local institutions such as Ottawa Tourism and the Shaw Centre are ready to help associations and businesses plan their meetings and events, even if they look different than what we are used to, says Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications at Ottawa Tourism.
“The hospitality industry is chomping at the bit to get back to doing what they do best: Hosting,” she says. “Whether it’s the Shaw Centre, hotels or local museums, these groups are prepared to welcome people back in a safe and controlled way.”
While multi-day, multi-venue events may be temporarily on hold, there are still options available for those looking to reconnect with employees or groups that were kept apart the last few months.
Technology has been a key factor in keeping people connected, says Van Kregten, and it is a great way to start reintroducing conferences.
The hybrid model – having a small number of people gather in person and connecting virtually with other groups in the province or country – allows organizations to come together locally while enabling people to explore the great amenities their home city has to offer.
As opposed to travelling to Toronto for an annual general meeting or yearly convention, hosting local staff in Ottawa and connecting via video conferencing is a “great alternative,” says Van Kregten.
“Keeping these events in Ottawa is going to be a key part of the economic recovery for the city and the hospitality industry,” she says. “Your attendees will feel safer without having to travel, and you’re injecting much- needed money into the city, so why not keep it local?”
Ottawa goes virtual
While some remain hesitant about gathering in groups, organizers can still bring guests to Ottawa, even through virtual events, as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario demonstrated in August.
After months of preparing to bring the AMO conference back to the capital in 2020, executive director Brian Rosborough and his team were forced to change their approach, turning it into a fully digital event when COVID-19 emerged in early March.
Not wanting to lose out on the experience of attending a conference in Ottawa, they decided to virtually recreate the Shaw Centre lobby as the navigation hub for the event, as well as include surrounding sights such as Parliament Hill to give attendees a sense of familiarity during the new experience.
“We often host the event in Ottawa, and our delegates always like to go because both the facilities and the attractions available are great,” says Rosborough. “This year, we took all kinds of steps to make sure it had some look and feel of the city, which was really well-received.”
To further highlight Ottawa as the host city, Mayor Jim Watson and Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation Chief Wendy Jocko both gave opening remarks to welcome those attending, while Ottawa Tourism representatives provided information to attendees on what the city has to offer once everyone can safely travel again.
“Ottawa Tourism was critical in helping us create a welcoming environment, even in a digital world,” Rosborough says.
Hosting the conference virtually also allowed organizers to be creative with the content lineup, as well as with how users interacted with the event.
Attendees were able to access webinars, videos and meetings from wherever they were located, giving them the flexibility to come back days later and revisit any material they felt they had missed.
Although many were still longing for the face-to-face interactions and evening networking events commonplace at large conferences, having Ottawa locales present at the event definitely added a sense of comfort to everyone involved, says Rosborough.
“It lent some familiarity and certainly acknowledged the important role of Ottawa as a host,” he says. “We really wanted people to understand that even though we couldn’t be in Ottawa physically, like we all wanted to be, we were still there virtually.”