Empty conference space spooks hoteliers

Cancellation of nearly 3,000 major business events across Canada led to a loss of more than $1 billion as hotels head into normally busy season

Business in Vancouver
October 29, 2020

Salima Ladha, director of sales, JW Marriott Parq, Vancouver: small social events replace corporate
— Salima Ladha, director of sales, JW Marriott Parq, Vancouver: small social events replace corporate

When the pandemic hit B.C. in March, the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and The Douglas saw almost all of their group and convention business cancel or change overnight.

Many bookings at the resort, which boasts more than 60,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and another 30,000 of outdoor space, were initially postponed by three to six months.

“We didn’t know the scope of what was to be,” said Salima Ladha, director of sales for the Marriott-branded resort.

Cancellations and delays continue and are expected to stretch into 2021. The Douglas, the resort’s casino and most of its eight restaurants remain closed.

According to Destination Canada, the cancellation of more than 2,700 major business events across the country before August has led to a loss of more than $1 billion in direct spending. More than half of events originally slated for November and December that would have attracted delegates from around the world have already been cancelled.

Even in the wake of COVID-19’s initial impact, new opportunities have emerged for traditional meeting spaces.

For example, Parq Vancouver has hosted a number of social events in place of corporate gatherings – including no fewer than four elopements over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

“To a certain degree, it’s not about the person not wanting to meet, it’s about the company not wanting their people to meet,” said Ladha.

Small and safe gatherings for birthdays, weddings and baby showers have become more common.

“It’s definitely a different type of business,” Ladha said.

Parq – which claims the largest hotel ballroom in the city – would typically house gatherings of between 500 and 800 people pre-pandemic.

In their place, the resort has hosted several hybrid in-person and virtual events, made possible by the resort’s built-in technology.

“I believe hybrid meetings are definitely here to stay,” said Ladha, who also believes that business travel may never fully recover from the pandemic and corporate decision makers’ realization that employees and representatives need not physically travel to an event to fully participate in it.

“[Hybrid meetings will] truly be the name of the game for 2021.” •

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