Vancouver's convention centre should play a key role in its smart city strategy
In part one of our "Smart City" series, we discussed how it's becoming rather common for cities to pursue a "green" agenda. We also raised the issue of how better integrating a city's economic development strategy with its post-secondary institutions can be a winning proposition.
In this post I'd like to explore further what Vancouver could do to transform itself into a smart city and by doing so create thousands of new jobs in the process.
We all know that tourism plays a big role in Vancouver's economy. It's a result of senior levels of government investing billions to construct new convention centres and meeting facilities throughout the city. Despite all this infrastructure, during the slower winter months many of our top-rated hotels remain at below capacity.
If Vancouver wants to become a smart city, it should work to meld it's tourism industry with its local academic institutions. In other words, the city should develop a new academic tourism strategy. The plan would would aim to significantly increase the number of academic conventions coming to the city each year.
The Convention Industry Council (CIC) estimated that conferences and conventions contributed $122.31B to the US GDP in 2004; making the industry the 29th most important contributor. It is probably safe to assume that conferences and conventions are proportionally more important to Canada’s and especially Vancouver’s economies.
Almost nine million overnight visitors came to Vancouver in 2007. They spent an estimated $4.6 billion or about $517 each. In the same year, meetings and conventions accounted for more than 1.9 million hotel room nights and $585 million in spending. Conference attendees spent an estimated $1,171 each during their 3.81 day stay, or almost double that of the average visitor to Vancouver.
According to a 2001 study conducted by the UK National Tourism Boards, academics spend more in the local economy than any other category of tourists.
Academics spent an average of £548 for travel and £201 per day while away from home. By comparison, business tourists spent an average of £355 for their travel and £140 per day on local activities.
Although it wasn't referenced in the study, I'm told academic tourists also generally arrive earlier and stay longer at each host city. As a general rule, they also tend to bring at least one or more family members with them.
Should Vancouver's smart city strategy prove successful, just imagine what some of the other benefits might be in the long-term. Not only would the world's best and brightest minds visit tourists sites, they would also be directly exposed to local researchers and business ventures in our region. It's been demonstrated that the development of these types of networks can foster meaningful partnerships years after a convention has wrapped up.
As you can see, it makes business sense to attract thousands more international students to local post-secondary institutions as well as implementing a made-in-Vancouver academic tourism strategy.
Now if you want to see an example of a jurisdiction that is actively pursuing a smart city agenda, check out Berlin. Some consider it a model of how municipalities should work more closely with universities to generate jobs. If we were to apply the Berlin model in Vancouver, he is what it might look like:
Designate entrepreneurial technology parks:
- Universities would house major research programs (SFU, UBC, BCIT) on-site. The idea is to have a good cohort of graduate students from key programs within the technology park.
- Third party connectors would locate there (IRAP, NSERC, Wavefront, etc). These are a source of R&D funds.
- Sign a deal with venture capitalists to be present on-site. Or you could simply develop an alliance with venture capitalists to run activities on-site (business competitions, venture capital awareness workshops, etc)
- New firms would be invited to have space on-site at a favourable price. This is either for a fixed period (first three years) or until they have revenue, or a combination of both.
- Some mature firms are also be invited to have small facilities on-site. Their selling point is that they will know what new things are coming out.
One thing Berlin likes is all the Federal/State money that flows into these technology parks. But even more, companies want to locate in Berlin, whether start-ups or mature, to get access to these parks. if Vancouver played its cards right, it could become a magnet for bright minds who want to learn here and set up their new enterprise.
Smart cities also find a way of solving their own problems by linking themselves with cutting edge research being undertaken at local universities. Vancouver (along with Metro Vancouver and TransLink) should be conducting hundreds of research internships with local graduate students as a means of increasing its intellectual capacity.
Just imagine if the Engineering department were to bring in a couple dozen UBC researchers every year to work on better ways to keep traffic flowing in the city. Or what if the Cultural Services department found of way of helping civic theatres run more efficiently on the limited dollars they're provided each year.
Not only would the city benefit from the research, but they could also use this initiative as a recruiting tool to attract new talent.
The final installment of our Smart City vs. Green City series will be posted in the coming days. Here is a link to our previous post on this topic.