Calgary Convention Centre president says future looking hopeful after a tough 2021

·2 min read
The east side of the Telus Convention Centre's north building, which was added in 2000. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The east side of the Telus Convention Centre's north building, which was added in 2000. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Revenues for the Calgary Convention Centre remained well below pre-pandemic levels last year, and much of that amount was due to government grants.

The centre is reporting revenues of $19 million for 2021. That compares with $26 million in 2019.

But Kurby Court, president and CEO of the convention centre, says this fall is looking more like normal as people feel comfortable gathering again, which is a positive sign for the future.

"Convention space is a long game, not a short game. It's two to seven years," he said.

"We were having those conversations during COVID when we were all working from home in our living rooms and kitchens, we were continuing to sell right out to 2028."

Their business has changed, though, with most meetings including a virtual component and people needing more breaks during their gatherings.

"I think we're set for a very strong future. The question is once we get into fall and next year, what does the world look like?"

A report to the city's audit committee Thursday outlined how the centre was financially impacted last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the majority of events were cancelled or postponed.

The centre got by with the help from government grants, including a $1.75 million operational grant from the city, a $7.2 million grant from COFLEX (the city's COVID recovery program), a $3.2 million capital grant and a $143,000 federal grant.

Those city programs will not be available this year.

The chair of city council's audit committee, Coun. Richard Pootmans, says there's a belief that the city-owned facility will emerge from the financial troubles of the pandemic.

"The trending is positive, so within a year or two of coming back to previous levels," he said.

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

Officials with the centre did face questions about its viability once Calgary's BMO Centre, currently being built at Stampede Park, is completed in 2024.

"We need to remember that they will be a Tier 1 centre. We are classed as a Tier 2 centre, and that's by square footage," Court said.

"The consumer who uses a convention centre of our size is very different than the person who wants to use a larger venue.… I always use the analogy of fishing. Currently, we're fishing for tuna; when BMO opens, we're fishing the entire ocean."

Court says there is still a significant shortage of qualified workers in the convention, hotel and food and beverage industries.

Every piece of the visitor economy needs to be up and running for the city to see continued success, he said.

"It is very, very important that all functions are working very smoothly and in harmony."