The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre
Reassessing the market
Business View Magazine interviews Kurby Court, VP of Operations at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre, as part of our focus on Canadian event venues.
The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (CTCC) has positioned itself to maintain a competitive edge in an environment of change. According to Kurby Court, the facility’s Vice President of Experience, keeping abreast of the current needs and wants of today’s customer is an essential part of staying relevant and vital in a dynamic business climate.
“The market is shifting,” observes Court. “We’re going from having the typical box-style convention centre to the customer wanting these unique experiences. So, gone are the days of having just a blank canvas for the convener to come into and paint the way they want to paint it. Now, the convener’s desire is to have it pre-packaged, customized, personalized, and to have it offer very unique and different experiences for the duration of the event.”
Situated in the heart of downtown Calgary, Alberta, the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre is Canada’s first purpose-built, full-service convention centre. Owned by the City of Calgary and operated by the Calgary Convention Centre Authority, the two-building facility first opened its doors in 1974, and was expanded in 2000 with the addition of the north building.
Today, there are 122,000 square feet of dedicated convention space, 47,000 square feet of exhibit space, five pre-function areas, and 36 meeting rooms. It’s become a hub for local, national, and international conventions, congresses, meetings, and events, attracting more than 175,000 visitors, annually.
Conveniently located near shops, dining, businesses, services, and a variety of attractions, the Convention Centre is connected to Calgary’s Light Rail Transit system and the city’s Plus 15 Skyway Network, an elevated pedestrian bridge that connects to a network that runs throughout the city. There’s also direct access to three four-star hotels: the Hyatt Regency Calgary, the Fairmont Palliser Calgary, and the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel. “Connected to our Centre, either through the Plus 15 Network, or physically connected to the Centre, are just over 1,100 hotel rooms,” says Court. “So, a guest could be here in the winter when it’s minus 40 degrees, and, virtually, never go outside.”
“There are also a number of different attractions they can go to because we were purposely built within the center of the city and on the historic Stephen Avenue (pedestrian) Mall,” he adds. “So we’re also connected to the shopping network. They were very smart when they built the facility.” Other nearby attractions include the world-class Glenbow Museum, Studio Bell which is home of the National Music Centre, the Arts Commons with its theater and symphonic offerings, and Calgary Tower.
Court says the change in customer desires and expectations has been accompanied by the entry of a fusion of spaces in the market, such as restaurants and bars that have reinvented themselves to become flexible event spaces. “From a competition perspective, the market, itself, and what conventions are looking for, has really shifted, especially in the last two years,” he notes. “I think it will continue to shift as conventions become shorter in timeframe and smaller in attendance. The expectations of planners for conventions, galas, and for meetings are shifting, as well, to be all-inclusive and provide a unique experience.
Adapting to the changes has seen the Convention Centre’s management take the unusual step of examining prospective clients in terms of whether they, and the event they’re planning, make for a good fit. “That requires being brave enough to say, ‘this may not be the event for us, but here’s who we would refer you to if it does not fit for us,’ so we can deliver the best possible experience for everybody at hand,” Court remarks. “That’s a big shift from yesterday where we’d just say ‘yes’ to everything and be everything to everyone, and then you’re not efficient, you’re not delivering the best possible experience, your people are stressed because they’re working in spaces they don’t typically work in, and they’re trying to deliver a package they don’t normally deliver. It really has evolved over the last couple years to be focused on customized, personalized, professional events.”
Court reports that when he and his executive team colleagues came onboard two years ago, they were tasked with reorganizing the prevailing mindset to reflect what he describes as a “consultative approach” that is unusual for the industry. “Typically”, he continues, “if an association wants to come, it’s how many people, how many meals do you need, how many meeting rooms do you need? From the consultative side of things, we want to understand what their story is, what their objective is, and what their desired outcome is. We really focus on what works for the client instead of what works for us. And it’s important to show that the event and the venue are both appropriate in those discussions. It’s, ‘Is this the venue appropriate for this client and/or is this client the appropriate client for this venue?’” Thus, mutual compatibility is the emphasis in marketing, rather than casting a wide net for any and all business.
The Convention Centre’s technology capabilities are robust, with recent major upgrades to the wireless network and the entire system, which is now sufficiently beefy to meet the demands of today’s large conventions with ease. “We can handle up to 10,000 devices concurrently in the Centre,” says Court. “We’ve really put an emphasis on redundancy, making sure that our fiber (optic) lines don’t just come into one building, but have redundancy by coming into both sides. That gives us the ability to keep things flexible so we can transfer the load from one building to another if need be.”
The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre is also a proponent and practitioner of green practices, even pressing its suppliers and partners to adopt such practices if they haven’t done so, already. An ecologically sound waste diversion plan, that includes composting, is part of that plan; so is utilizing environmentally-friendly air filtration filters. In fact, the facility received an award in 2019 from the North American Air Filtration System for its clean air.
“We’re constantly looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Court, “whether that be in building automation or lighting systems. Even after reducing our energy consumption by 33 percent, two years ago, we’re still finding ways to reduce through programming and light centers and the type of lights that are used, and all sorts of things.”
2019 will also see the Convention Centre get into the bee business – or rather the urban honey bee business. “We’re going to have a couple of bee hives here that will look after Stephen Avenue and all its plants and trees,” Court explains. “We’re told that urban bees are the hardest working bees in the world, so let’s see what they do. But it’s also a great opportunity for us to provide educational programs for children about bees. Of course, they’ll be producing some honey and, hopefully, some of our guests will have a chance to enjoy some of that as a thank-you gift.”
Over the next four years, $15 million in improvements and upgrades will be made that will enhance the Convention Centre’s sustainability, technology, and aesthetics, adding value to the customer experience. Court is looking forward the updates, but he’s experiencing one small complication.
“It’s a lot of work, but the trick with capital investments is the competition for time,” he says. “I think I have a total of four weeks on the calendar where I could actually lock the building down and work without encumbrances on the renovation. The biggest challenge for us is working against the event times – it’s a lot of evening, weekend, and holiday work to accomplish all the improvements. But our team of ‘young old-pros’ are capable and ready to roll.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Calgary TELUS Convention Centre
WHAT: Canada’s first purpose-built, full-service convention centre
WHERE: Calgary, Alberta