The Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference took place November 15–18 in Toronto—one of the world’s most multicultural cities, with 140 languages spoken and half the population of 2.5 million born outside of Canada.
The 500+ attendees at the conference, held at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, got a taste of the city’s culinary diversity during a dinearound, sponsored by Tourism Toronto, that included restaurants from the Asian fusion of “Spice Route” to the exotic and kitschy “Sultan’s Tent.” (If you were there, you may have seen conference emcee and Financial & Insurance Meetings columnist Dale Irvin bellydancing before dinner!)
When he was president of FICP several years ago, Michael Burke, manager, conference & travel services, The Hanover Insurance Group in Worcester, Mass., was in charge of selecting the site for this year’s meeting. Choosing Toronto, he says, was easy. “We have a significant number of members from Canada,” he says. “I had been a member of FICP for 13 years and we had never held the annual conference in Canada. Canada had always been a big supporter of FICP so it was time to show our support.”
In addition, he points out, Toronto is the financial center of Canada, making it a natural fit for the group. “I can’t take credit for knowing what the economy was going to do [back when the site was selected],” he adds, but holding the meeting in an urban, business-oriented destination turned out to be a very appropriate choice in this year of corporate-meeting scrutiny.
Burke also didn’t know at the time that this year’s conference chair would end up being Patricia Kerr, CMP, of Manulife Financial, who calls Toronto home. “I had a passion about planning this meeting in Toronto,” Kerr told attendees during what was both a farewell address (as she wrapped up her three-year term on the Board of Directors) and a heartfelt thank-you to the Design Team volunteers, annual meeting sponsors, and the FICP headquarters team at Smith-Bucklin, all of whom she credited with the success of this year’s event.
As is its tradition, FICP also gave back to the community through its silent auction, which this year raised $60,000. The money was used to purchase more than 1,000 StormTech jackets for distribution to families in need in Toronto through a charity called Coats for Kids. In lieu of room amenities, the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel made a financial contribution as well, and attendees brought with them an additional 154 coats to donate to the program.
Throughout the meeting, attendees spoke positively about Toronto as a meeting site. “As big cities go, it’s cleaner, friendlier, and easier to get around,” than some others, said Ken Juel of TD Ameritrade. “You can create [promotional] buzz because it’s outside the U.S., but it’s easy. It’s ‘easy international.’”
Tourism Toronto also makes things easy for meeting planners. Check out its Web site for the “tips and advice”—a list of links to articles with titles such as “If GST sounds foreign to you, chances are you’ll be reimbursed,” “Customs made easy,” and “How to host a zero-waste event.”