I had the pleasure of visiting Calgary, Canada in July on an influencer trip associated with the DES (Digital Event Strategist) program run by the Digital Experience Institute and PCMA. They partnered with Meetings + Conventions Calgary to bring 20 students to Calgary for a weekend of education and they also invited me to explore the city as well to share my experiences with meeting planners from all over the world.
Pride. Innovation. Creativity.
You won’t come across any Calgarian who is not beaming with pride over the growth of their city, the culinary destination it is becoming, the interesting coffee and beer breweries that are popping up, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is really taking hold of the city. Diversification has been a huge focus in the past few years and because of that, we see such creativity and innovation throughout the city. On a side note – something that was really interesting to me is that they have the most tech start-ups per capita of any city in Canada at this point. The lower rents and less scrutiny around immigration make Canada a breeding ground for emerging tech companies.
Calgary is an evolving city. They have their eye on a vision for the future that they believe will set them apart as a major city in Canada and it seems every member of the society is committed to pushing Calgary forward. From airport renovations to improving infrastructure – there is a clear focus on building the economy and thought leadership of Calgary. In fact – they are even bidding on hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics, which would be a huge influence on the city.
We were treated to an amazing weekend by the Meetings + Conventions Calgary team and I’m excited to share some of the activities and experiences we had, along with some pictures to help you relive it all alongside me. Consider this your vacation to Calgary, in the comfort of your own home!
Our first evening kicked off with a very special night at the Calgary Zoo – they didn’t wait until the last night to bring out all the stops! We were able to tour the zoo a little bit and had a really special time to spend with the pandas in their exhibit who are on loan for a five-year program from China. It was amazing to learn about their conservation and re-introduction programs, but in addition to these adorable pandas, the Calgary Zoo actually hosts about 470 events a year. They have several venues and even have a restaurant called the Grazer that seats 60 and backs to the alpaca enclosure! They do a variety of corporate and wedding events, up to 2500 attendees. The food we had for dinner was delicious – Alberta beef, vegetables and potatoes with a berry crème brûlée for dessert.
After a great night’s rest at the Hyatt Regency Calgary, we started day two with a visit to Hotel Arts – one of the most beautiful and creative venues that we saw. We started with breakfast at their hotel restaurant, The Yellow Door Bistro. This chic hotel is located in the Victoria Park neighborhood – home to some very cool up-and-coming culinary tourism destinations, breweries, and coffee roasters.
The food we had was delicious, but the thing that most impressed me about Hotel Arts was the implementation of a new system called D.I.R.T.T. D.I.R.T.T. stands for Doing it Right This Time and is a modular construction system that allows the venue to completely re-design a room in a fraction of the time it takes today. It takes the traditional equation of 70% labor and 30% materials and flips it on his head. The room in this picture is actually designed completely of panels that can be easily swapped for any design. This room is part of a wing they re-designed to test this concept and while it took several weeks to install and set up, they can completely redesign the entire wing in just four days! As they complete this version of the test, they are thinking of expanding this technology into the meeting rooms which I think is a very interesting and smart idea. Rather than being stuck with ballrooms that are 40 years old and very outdated, you can refresh them every few years with very little time, and keep your venues looking fresh far into the future. There’s also a lot more room to allow your event organizers to customize the space using this D.I.R.T.T. system as well.
In the afternoon, we got to take a two hour bike tour (that’s right, I rode a bike!) through the city of Calgary on what is the most extensive biking path in North America! We rode around the city for about two hours and had the opportunity to see many different neighborhoods. We even took a quick stop at the Simmons Building to check out CharBar, Phil & Sebastian’s Coffee Roasters, and the Sidewalk Citizen’s Bakery. This is a truly special venue that can be used for weddings or special events (or even corporate). It is beautiful during the day, but I can only imagine how strikingly awesome it is in the evening. You can see the original woodwork all throughout the building that is over 100 years old and everything about the venue screams history.
We also had the chance to ride over the famous Peace Bridge – I took a few pictures, but this is such a popular spot on the in the city that I was quite sure I would run over a pedestrian 🙂
Our final day in Calgary was action-packed. We started off the day by joining the DES Program where I had the opportunity to talk about Using Tech to Make You More Productive at The Bow – one of the most beautiful views in Calgary and also one of the most recognizable buildings in the city. The building is beautiful, and while it’s primarily an office space, they do have some gorgeous event space as well. Not to mention that Calgary spends money on public art for every new build so they have a great structure outside called Wonderland.
Our next stop was the Calgary Convention Center – a convention center that is evolving, just like the city. Large ballrooms and standard breakout rooms certainly exist, but they are also very focused on innovation and evolution. Their CoLAB One room is designed with unique furniture and with a focus on allowing the event content to dictate the room set. The convention center is directly connected to three hotels, all connected by climate-controlled sky bridges (locally known as the +15). There is also a pedestrian walkway filled with restaurants, shopping and more. The Calgary Telus Convention Center is really working hard to stand apart and support the vibrant startups that are the backbone of this growing city and the International convention traffic that comes through Alberta.
After being impressed by the convention centre, we got a tour of the most historic venue in Calgary – theCalgary Stampede. The CS in an annual event (one of the most iconic), but also home to five venues and over seven hundred other events throughout the year. Their five hundred thousand square feet of flexible event space is home to meetings, conferences, conventions and special events. Like all things in Calgary, they are renovating and growing. My favourite spot we saw was a very recently renovated venue on Stampede Park called the Big Four Roadhouse – this rustic, but modern venue has a stage for all kinds of performances and also highlights Calgary’s emerging craft beer scene, BBQ food and rustic fun. Stampede Park is so large and encompasses so many different venues, you really have to take a personal tour to understand the gravity of this historical space.
Just around lunch time, we joined the Calgary Food Tour for an epic experience. As a foodie, this was definitely my favorite of all the experiences – getting the chance to tour 17th Avenue, learn about the culture and taste some of their best restaurants. We visited Cibo Restaurant, Vine Arts Liquor Store, Ollia’s Macarons and Tea, Anju Korean Tapas, Calcutta Cricket Club & Royale for dessert. The food options were fresh, local and, of course, delicious. The organizers of the crawl do a great job of timing things out and allowing you to try so many different things, without leaving you feeling so full you can’t enjoy the time. (Although I was REALLY full by the end of it!)
For our last experience, we were taken to the special National Music Center – the beautiful Studio Bell building where we toured some of their exhibits and then had a delicious dinner presented by Hotel Arts. The building itself is one of the most impressive aspects of this space – they put painstaking attention into every single detail and actually designed the entire building to operate as a living instrument. They have some original instruments (like Elton John’s piano!) and allow musicians from all over the world to play most of them.
As you can see, this trip to Calgary was a truly great one. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, but I really was impressed by the technology, innovation, community and environmentally-conscious culture of the people who live in Calgary, and the businesses and event spaces that service the community. I will definitely be back to visit, and hope to have some great business to bring into the city as well.
For more information on Calgary, please contact Meetings + Conventions Calgary – a CVB that has all the connections and knows how to host your group in an authentic and engaging way! Sincere thanks to them for letting me visit! To see more of my trip, check out all my images on my Instagram account and see my live-tweets from the DES sessions on my Twitter account!