The cost of booking space and hosting events in Vancouver has soared as the COVID-19 pandemic fades in the rear-view mirror.
Hotel operators have told BIV that they are seeing strong demand for meeting rooms while advocates at business development organizations are urging investors to consider putting money into developing more space in their communities.
“Event space is at an absolute premium in Metro Vancouver,” said Tourism Burnaby executive director Chris Peters, who is also president-elect of Meeting Professionals International’s B.C. chapter.
“Meeting space availability is at an all-time low.”
He attributes this to the region being a premium destination with high demand and low supply.
Executives at many companies decided not to retain office space given the trend toward workers being based remotely. That means that when they need staff meetings, they book meeting room space, Peters said.
The backlog of weddings and social events during the pandemic also created a backlog, he added.
The last major venue, with space for more than 500 people, to open in the region was the Parq complex in 2017.
Non-traditional meeting spaces have been opening to fill demand, Peters said.
For example, there is a the Deeley Exhibition venue at 1875 Boundary Road in Vancouver, which has a conference room and a multi-function foyer in addition to a motorcycle museum.
The Modern Vancouver has opened at 1928 West Broadway and can accommodate up to 100 guests for non-ticketed private events.
The former Simon Fraser University pub has changed its use and no longer operates as a place for students and instructors to grab beer and sandwiches. Instead, it operates as a private venue to rent, Peters said.
Dubbed The Study, the versatile space is available for $1,300 per day, according to its website.
New restaurants, such as the Rec Room in Burnaby, are also offering private meeting space.
A restaurant named Gordon Ramsay Steak is set to open at River Rock Casino Resort in spring 2024 and Great Canadian Entertainment executive vice-president Chuck Keeling told BIV that the space will have a private dining room that can double as meeting space.
“We’re seeing strong demand for meeting space,” he said.
“The thing with River Rock is that it has great proximity to the airport, and proximity to the city with a Canada Line station right there. We have a lot of dedicated conventional meeting space and hotel space.”
River Rock has a theatre that can fit more than 2,000 people when configured in stadium-style seating. Keeling said that it is often booked by corporate groups for functions when seats are pulled back and there is a flat floor area able to hold about 500 people.
Starting in December, Great Canadian’s Coquitlam casino, long called Hard Rock Casino Vancouver, will be rebranded Great Canadian Casino Vancouver.
Its new restaurant, dubbed Gordon Ramsay Burger, is set to open Dec. 4, but Keeling said that it has an “open concept,” and will not include private-dining space.
The venue’s Show Theatre, previously known as the Red Robinson Theatre, can also fit about 500 people when a flat floor is exposed, Keeling said.
Community advocates in Surrey have long lamented that the city has little corporate meeting space.
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman told BIV that she is urging investors to come to the rescue and help build new space.
“We need the private sector, or a consortium of investors to invest in convention space, performing arts spaces – all of those unique spaces that we simply don’t have to host conventions,” she said.
Surrey does have the Bell Performing Arts Centre, but access to the venue is through the Sullivan Heights Secondary School, she said.
Tourism Richmond CEO Nancy Small said one of the newer event spaces in her community is the Versante Hotel, which has more than 5,500 square feet of versatile space and meeting rooms for groups up to about 180 people.
“Another place is the Legacy Lounge at the Richmond Olympic Oval,” she said. “It is adjacent to the Richmond Olympic Experience museum and overlooks everything that’s happening in the oval, which is one of the busiest sports-excellence complexes in the province, if not the country. It gives delegates an opportunity to have food, meet and just enjoy the ambiance of the oval.”
While this new space is nice to have, tourism advocates say much more is needed.
“There can never be enough meeting space, or unique-venue space that meeting planners and conference organizers can bring events to,” said Tourism Industry Association of B.C. CEO Walt Judas.
“By unique, I mean distinctive venues that would be neat for a function. Look at the roof of Joe Fortes restaurant, or at Black+Blue, or at the Roundhouse. You have venues like that, which can be attractions. There’s the Vancouver Aquarium, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Science World."
One new booking platform that is gaining in popularity is Giggster, which is like an Airbnb service but for corporate meeting spaces. Its website notes that there are about 450 listings in Vancouver.