Photo: Old Port of Montréal © LOÃC ROMER
MONTRÉAL IS OFTEN DESCRIBED as one of the most European-looking cities outside Europe. Add in its numerous outdoor cafés, a Parisian-influenced Metro, safe streets and bilingual population, and it is no wonder planners choose the city more than ever for MICE events.
According to Tourisme Montréal, more than 11 million tourists visited the city in 2017, a 5 percent increase from the previous year, with visitor spending, including by MICE participants, at more than CAD4 billion ($3.08 billion), up 9.7 percent.
Last year, passenger traffic into Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport from the United States surged by almost 12 percent, and the Hotel Association of Greater Montréal reported an increase in hotel occupancy to 77 percent. “This year was again punctuated with city-wide public and MICE events, marking the city’s efforts to position itself as a cultural metropolis and international-caliber destination,” said Christopher Marilley, director of meeting and convention sales, Tourisme Montréal.
More than 100 festivals take place in Montréal every year, from world-class culinary events to large outdoor gatherings. Some of the bigger events include the International Montréal Jazz Festival, ranked as the largest jazz event in the world by Guinness World Records (June); Just for Laughs, one of the most prestigious comedy events in North America (July); and Montréal en Lumière (Festival of Light), a citywide feast for the senses. It encompasses music, theater and dance performances; food and wine events; and light installations, including one at the iconic Jacques Cartier Bridge (February–March).
Major conferences in 2018 utilizing the Montréal Convention Centre include the 9th International Congress on Glaucoma Surgery, NIPS 2018 Neural Information Processing Systems and the 39th Sicot Orthopaedic World Congress.
Montréal offers many deluxe MICE hotels such as Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth (950 rooms); Le Centre Sheraton (982); Le Westin Montréal (455); Loews Hôtel Vogue (142); The Ritz- Carlton, Montréal (98); and the Hyatt Regency Montreal (595). All these properties offer ample meeting space, fine dining and catering options.
Several new, smaller meeting hotels include the boutique 90-room Le Mount Stephen, opened last year in a restored historic building with floor-to-ceiling windows, on-site spa and the Britishinspired Bar George. The modern, tech-savvy Hôtel Monville offers 269 guestrooms as well as meeting space on the 20th floor and opened this year just steps from the Palais des Congrès. The 169-room AC Hotel Montréal Centre- Ville opened this year as Marriott’s first AC hotel brand in Canada.
The Four Seasons Hotel returns to Montréal after a 20-year absence with a CAD398 million ($307 million) project expected to open in 2019 as an 18-story, 166-room, mixed-use hotel complex that will include retail spaces, a restaurant and bar, a Four Seasons Spa and 18 luxury residences.
Group planners can book two excursion companies offering meeting and dining space on board St. Lawrence River cruise boats. Le Bateau-Mouche launched in 1992 and quickly earned the Tourism Grand Prix from the Office des Congrès et du Tourisme du Grand Montréal in the Tourist Innovation category. With the addition of a 440-square-foot open-air deck, the boat’s full length now reaches 110 feet, with a capacity of 190.
Le Bateau-Mouche does not use plastic glasses, plates or utensils for its dinner cruise, and its green philosophy means a smoke-free environment; even the boat’s crew wear polo sweaters made of organic cotton. For MICE groups, Le Bateau-Mouche offers several packages, including a 1.5- hour tour that departs from the Jacques-Cartier Pier at the Old Port of Montréal and passes Montréal Olympic Stadium, Montréal Science Centre, Jacques Cartier Bridge and Habitat 67. The 3.5-hour dinner cruise includes fine-dining menu options created by Executive Chef Alain Pignard of Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, a live musical performance and a sound and light experience.
Another option for St. Lawrence River cruising is the Croisieres AML company boat, the AML Cavalier Maxim. MICE planners can negotiate a complete buy-out or use one or more of the boat’s four decks. The cruise offers guided sightseeing and lunch or dinner cruises. Deck A offers a multipurpose panoramic room with a capacity of 250. Deck B has the Maxi Club, with access to an outdoor terrace and a capacity of 160, and the Intimate Atrium, a private lounge with a panoramic view accommodating 60. Deck C, on the upper level, features windows on both sides and a 210-seat terrace.
Other popular MICE activities on the St. Lawrence River include jet boating and rafting in summer and learning to play ice hockey or curling in winter.
The Palais des Congrès de Montréal (Montréal Convention Centre) helps planners put on environmentally sustainable events. Since 2011 the venue’s Culti-Vert Project, a rooftop container garden, helped reduce the urban heat island effect and produces organic herbs, fruits and vegetables. Located downtown and linked to 4,000 hotel rooms by the city’s underground pedestrian network, the Palais des Congrès features 551,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, with 88 meeting rooms.
Downtown’s towering Au Sommet Place Ville Marie offers the 360 Observation Deck on its 46th floor for receptions, business meetings and galas, with a capacity of 200. Additional features include a 45thfloor interactive exhibition on modern-day Montréal and the highest restaurant in the city, Les Enfants Terribles, on the 44th floor.
The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (Museum of Contemporary Art), also known as the MAC, offers MICE planners a trendy environment on the Place des Arts, where many of Montréal’s international festivals hold gala events. A larger, newly designed MAC will open at the same location in 2021 with an eclectic angular overhang and new spaces for Restaurant du MAC opening onto an outdoor terrace. The expanded and transformed venue will greatly enhance the options for group events.