The idea is to fall in love with a tourist destination.
Local tourism boosters are hoping a gathering of hundreds of people seeking out the ultimate travel spot through mass speed-dating will find Calgary plenty of foreign suitors.
The matchmakers descend on the BMO Centre on Stampede Park May 9-12 for Rendez-vous Canada, a hospitality industry trade show held annually in a different Canadian city.
With 1,500 industry representatives converging on the city, it’s a dream opportunity to show the world what Calgary has to offer, said Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary.
“With buyers from around the world of the Canadian product, we get the opportunity to showcase us and the speed dating exercise is an opportunity to do it from a different standpoint,” she said.
Among a vast expanse of exhibitors, international buyers scramble to secure a date with a preferred tourism seller.
Rendez-vous Canada’s impact can be a lasting one, said Tourism Calgary chairman Rod McKay.
“They come this year but they buy next year and the year after that and the year after that,” he said.
“It becomes a bit of a longer-term game.”
The two expressed enthusiasm over the 105 representatives from China, which is seen as a huge, lucrative market all the more accessible since Hainan Airlines began direct flights to Calgary last year.
Ady said the response by Chinese tourists last year was “good” but expectations are rising.
It’s hoped Rendez-Vous Canada will be a tonic, she said.
Chinese tourists, she said, are shoppers like few others.
“They’ll come in and strip whole walls,” said Ady, adding the market to tap is massive.
“With cities of 20 million people, if you get 1% of anything, it’s enormous.”
Tourism Calgary will be hosting a bevy of international guests at a party at the National Music Centre on Thursday while embarking on familiarization trips in the city and outside it, said Ady.
“We’ll show them everything Calgary has to offer, we’ll keep them busy,” she said.
It’s a chance to widen the scope of the city’s exposure, said Ady and McKay.
In recent months, Tourism Calgary has focused its promotional outreach in the U.S. to Texas, California and New York, which are among the most heavily-populated states.
Internationally aside from the U.S., the target’s been China, Japan, the U.K., Australia, Germany and Mexico, they said.
Rendez-vous Canada will be another chance to exercise the agency’s partnership with 60 local hospitality industry stakeholders, they said.
“We’re always stronger when we hunt in a pack,” said Ady.
Tourism Calgary also says the recent economic downturn has hit the city’s business travel numbers, with 800,000 fewer visitors in 2016 compared to the year previous, as well as a $100 million reduction in tourism revenue. However, the agency noted leisure visitation has been rebounding, with a 45% uptick last year over 2015.
They say they’re expecting good numbers this spring and summer, buoyed partly by the Canada 150 celebrations that include free admission to the country’s national parks.
On Tuesday night, the trade show will colour parts of Calgary as venues such as the Calgary Tower, Reconciliation Bridge, Arts Common and Telus Spark Science Centre will be illuminated in red.