Provincial Ex organizers inspired at conference

Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba officials have taken time out of planning the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair to attend a conference full of information sessions and networking opportunities in the nation’s capital.

Café Conference, also known as the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions Convention, kicked off at the Marriott Hotel in Ottawa Wednesday and runs through today, featuring workshops, industry tours and sessions on ticket sales and marketing to understanding new audiences and customer service.

The conference is something Provincial Ex board president Kathy Cleaver said she looks forward to every year. Last year’s event, a scaled-down occasion due to COVID-19 restrictions, took place in Regina, and 2020’s meeting was cancelled.

“A lot of [it] is networking with other fairs across the country to discuss challenges and recovering form COVID. Getting to meet the other movers and shakers in the industry,” Cleaver said. “I always come home energized after … hearing other people’s enthusiasm and seeing the dedication they put into their fairs.”

Particularly looking forward to a session on how to appeal to youth, Cleaver said it’s more important than ever that people have “real experiences” such as the opportunity to attend fairs and live events. However, it can be a challenge to draw people out.

It’s important for the Provincial Ex to be able to recruit young people as volunteers as well as attendees, something that was also discussed at the convention, Cleaver added.

“How do you keep these kids engaged? How do you get them moving? We rely on them for volunteers, we rely on them to keep going. How can we be inclusive?”

Mark Humphries, general manager of the Provincial Ex, is also attending the convention.

“There’s a lot of optimism going forward,” Humphries said. “We’re all watching the current trends to see where we’re going to go forward, and a lot of new, exciting ideas are coming forward.”

Though he couldn’t share any specifics, since planning for the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair is still in its “early days,” Humphries did say that every conversation and every meeting at the convention is generating new ideas.

“We’ve got several ideas in the pipeline that we’d like to move forward with, whether it’s this coming year or whether we start developing that in 2024,” he said. “We want to innovate and move forward and keep it fresh, and that’s the reason we go to these conferences.”

With only five weeks to plan last year’s Winter Fair, due to changing COVID-19 restrictions, Humphries said it’s a relief to have more breathing room ahead of next year’s event, which is scheduled to take place March 27 to April 1.

Cleaver is equally excited about the event and said several horse shows have already been booked. She has scouted out various entertainment events while at the convention, as well. Her biggest takeaway from the conference, she said, is that the Provincial Ex more than holds its own with fairs across the country and even the world.

“We’re coming home with the assurance that we’re doing pretty well in Brandon,” she said. “We can hold our head up anywhere.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun