The Art of Bringing International Meetings to Toronto: Q&A with Leaders Circle Manager Kathy Nicolay


In 2018, Toronto will host the 7th Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s largest interfaith event. The 2018 Parliament will bring more that 10,000 people from around the world to Toronto for seven days, generate economic benefit for the city, and offer more than 500 programs, workshops and events presented by the world’s religious communities and institutions.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to bring an international conference like the 7th Parliament of the World’s Religions to Toronto? I sat down with Kathy Nicolay, Leaders Circle Manager, for answers.

1. What is the first step in bringing an international meeting to Toronto?

In most cases, a strategic bid must be submitted. The international association will request bids with specific guidelines and a deadline for submission (timing on this varies based on congress rotation and other factors). Typically, submitting a bid requires participation from the Canadian member organization and/or a local leader who is an expert in that field; this is true for approximately 70% of international congresses.Contacting the Leaders Circle is the best first step as we have years of industry expertise in meetings and events and can assist your navigation through the often complex bidding process.

2. How long in advance should someone start to plan before they bid for a conference?

There isn’t an exact timeline since there are many variables that can influence timing. For example, the international meeting rotation can vary from annual, biannual, triennial or even 4 to 5 years. This will often determine how many years out your bid will be due.

3. What does the process typically consist of?

Although international associations all have different requirements, the process will generally include the following but not limited to:

The international association will send a request for bids with a deadline for submission.

A bid team or local organizing committee is formed which can include the person initiating the bid, their colleagues in the same field, and the national member association. It may also include a Professional Congress Organizer (PCO).

The team will analyze bid criteria and conduct research, then draft and submit the bid.

Once our city is shortlisted, the team will typically present the bid at the next congress.

Site inspections may follow for the shortlisted cities.

Finally, the congress venue selection will be finalized, typically by general assembly vote or by executive committee. For the 7th Parliament of the World’s Religions, for example, the selection of Toronto was made by the Board of Trustees of the governing organization at its April 2017 meeting.

The Leaders Circle will assist you throughout this entire process.

4. What type of people from Toronto have successfully bid for a meeting?

Professionals from various sectors have worked with the Leaders Circle to bring an international congress to Toronto. For instance, we have partnered with top neuroscientists including Dr. Michael Fehlings to bring the 2019 Global Spine Congress to Toronto in May 2019 and the Head of the Division of Transfusion Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dr. Katerina Pavenski, to bring the 35th International Congress of the International Society for Blood Transfusion to Toronto in June 2018. Aside from the life sciences industry, many others have led successful bids including Ambassador Dr. Patrizia Albanese who is Chair of the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology heading to Toronto in July 2018.

5. What have been some of the reasons why Toronto has been selected as a destination? 

Toronto is consistently ranked as one of the top destinations around the globe. We are recognized for being Canada’s commercial capital and for excellence in a number of sectors including life sciences, technology, and education.

6. How are conferences leaving a legacy in Toronto and why is legacy so important?

It is documented that when a conference is held in a city there are larger benefits outside of the economic impact to the city and region: these are often called “Beyond Tourism Benefits”.We may not see the social or community impacts of hosting an international conference in the immediate; however, international meetings give an individual the opportunity to put a spotlight on his /her sciences or his/her research projects which can lead to future research collaborations.  Hosting an international meeting is a chance for Toronto to tell its research and innovation story on a global stage.For example, Leaders Circle Ambassador Dr. Sam Schulman brought the XXV Congress of the International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) to Toronto in June 2015.  During ISTH, three ground-breaking and practice-changing studies in thrombosis and haemostasis released at the Congress were simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine which was truly historic for ISTH.

On May 4th, 2017, the Leaders Circle honoured eight key local professionals for their integral contribution in bringing five new international meetings to Toronto. The five new international conferences that will take place in Toronto between 2017 and 2024 and will gather worldwide thought leaders across a variety of subjects including immigration law, industrial technology, and public health. The estimated economic benefit generated for Toronto by these new international meetings is estimated to be more than $22 million.

Kathy Nicolay partners with top thinkers, innovators and researchers to bring international meetings to Toronto. Through the combined expertise of its members, the Leaders Circle ensures Toronto continues to host significant international meetings that provide a transfer of knowledge, build on the city’s global reputation, promote innovation and ground breaking institutions, and leave a legacy of social and economic benefits to the city and region.

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