There's brisk competition for conventions. They mean big money. Toronto is among the top ten convention cities of North America
IF YOU live in one of Canada’s larger cities there will be numerous occasions this summer when you are suddenly made aware of the presence of a considerable number of strangers within your gates. Men and women will throng your streets, gazing—with the widely eager eyes of the sight-seer who sees unfamiliar sights—at your public buildings, your store windows, your theatre fronts, your museums, your art galleries, your parks, your monuments, and you.
You will observe that these gaily interested visitors have a tendency to move around in groups. Some of them will be wearing silken badges with words stamped upon them in gilt letters, or celluloid buttons as big as small saucers identifying them as Joe Doakes from Oshkosh or Minnie Mouse from Kalamazoo. They will ask queer questions such as: “How do I get to the Hotel Magnificent from here?” when they are standing just around the corner from the Hotel Magnificent’s main entrance. Or: “Where’s the City Hall?” when they are looking at it. By these signs you will know that there’s a convention in town.
The convention is a North American device for combining business with pleasure. In some degree it is known in Europe, or rather was known in Europe before Hitler; but the idea of gathering together at stated intervals large numbers of people sharing similar interests in some particular branch of commercial or industrial enterprise, or in religious, professional or social activities, reaches its full flower on this continent. More than 20,000 conventions of international and national consequence are held every year in somewhere between forty and fifty United States ar.d Canadian cities, as well as in some smaller towns famed as resorts. Millions of people attend them, and they may spend as much as a billion dollars annually wherever they happen to be. The big cities get the cream of this huge jack pot, but smaller towns, especially if they are state or provincial capitals, entertain thousands of guests assembled for local conventions. No one of these minor shindigs will bring overwhelming numbers of visitors; but together they contribute a goodly sum to the annual income of the convention city’s merchants and hotel men, and through them to the community at large.
This year more than ever, conventions are important to Canada. Almost all the big get-togethers attract large numbers of delegates from the United States. Some of them, coupled up with industrial exhibits, bring as many more non-delegates, folks who wish to sell something to the delegates or to the organizations the delegates represent. Our neighbors from the South will scatter their dollars here, and those dollars will go back to the United States for the purchase of the war materials we need so badly. It is one of the odd aberrations of this war that the august and detached Foreign Exchange Control Board has a definite and direct interest in the presence in Canada of such gatherings as the annual convention of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, whose members are deeply concerned over the domestic habits of fishes and snakes.
Conventions represent the wholesale division of the tourist business. Individual travellers may come to Canada for varying periods, wandering where they will, distributing their money in comparatively small amounts. A
convention, involving hundreds, thousands, and in one or two cases as many as ten thousand visitors, moves into a city, takes over most of its hotel accommodation, stays for three days, four days or a week and departs leaving behind a concentrated expenditure that may run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. You may be very sure that there is keen competition between the cities for the larger conventions. A tremendous amount of work is involved in the business of first persuading a convention to foregather in one particular spot, then making it happy when it gets there so that the people it brings will wish to return and spend some more money.
Toronto In Top Ten
OF CANADIAN communities, Toronto ranks highest among the convention cities. It is the only one to be listed among the first ten on the continent. This major league of the International Association of Convention Bureaus includes New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlantic City, Toronto, Cincinnati, Washington, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, approximately in that order. An average of 300 conventions are held in Toronto each year. In 1940 the figure was off a little. This year it is higher— about 320—and people who are actively engaged in bringing international and national conventions to the Queen City are going around these days with the first two fingers of both hands crossed, because, barring some major catastrophe, 1942 will be the biggest convention year in all Toronto’s history.
Three main considerations combine to make a city a desirable place to hold a convention. The first is its location considered in relation to the area whence most of the delegates will be drawn. The second is hotel accommodation and the third the services available for the use of the convention; suitable auditoriums and halls of various sizes for holding meetings, exhibition facilities and the like. It so happens that Toronto has an advantage over other Canadian cities in all these qualifications. Three quarters of the entire population of the North American continent live within an overnight train ride of the Ontario capital. The city is well equipped with hotels and two of them, the
Royal York and the King Edward possess exceptional convention accommodation designed and built expressly for that purpose. Also there is ample space for exhibits, ranging from hotel ballrooms to the elaborate Automotive Building of the Canadian National Exhibition, the most commodious and conveniently constructed hall of its type in the Dominion.
In normal times Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver play host to a number of regional conventions every year. Organizations from New York and the New England states like to drop in on Montreal, an unusual city, packed with atmosphere and just around the corner from where they live; but the metropolis on the St. Lawrence is too far away from the centre of population of the United States to compete successfully for most of the larger international meetings. Also, although there are plenty of good hotels in Montreal, the city lacks other convention facilities, has no large auditorium especially suited for exhibitions. Ottawa enjoys the prestige belonging to a national capital, as does Washington; but there’ll be no conventions in Ottawa while the war lasts. Short of stacking the visitors into cords like firewood, the capital couldn’t find places for them to sleep.
The border Middle-western States join with the Prairie Provinces to stage sizeable conventions at Winnipeg from time to time, but the supply is limited. Calgary has its annual Stampede, and you could call that a cowboy’s convention with only a slight tug on your imagination. Pacific-coast-states folks go to British Columbia for conventions in Vancouver and Victoria at frequent intervals, but these again are more likely to be sectional jamborees than national events counting their delegates by thousands. The same geographical handicap that makes the big shows reluctant to select such interesting communities as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston for their assemblages militates against the chances of most Canadian cities except Toronto. It costs too much to get there in the first place.
The biggest convention to be held in Toronto this year will be the National Dairy Industries meeting from October 20 to 25. The Dairy Industries organization is a three-way affiliation including the International Association of Milk Dealers, the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers and the Dairy Industries Supply Association. This is one of those industrial conventions that stages an exhibition as part of the proceedings, and Toronto officials figure that at least 10,000 delegates and non-delegates interested in milk and milk products will be in town for the third week of October.
The National Fire Protection Association gathering has to do with fire fighting. This organization, together with the Association of Canadian Fire Marshals and the Dominion P'ire Protection Association, broughtanestimated 1,000 visitors into Toronto for National Fire Protection week, May 12 to 16. Other conventions in the thousandvisitor class, visiting Toron to in 1941, include the American Waterworks Association, June 22 to 26, National Industrial Advertisers, September 17 to 19, and the National Association of Ice Industries, November 10 to 14. Rated from 250 to 600 guests are the meetings of the Advertising Affiliation Association, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers,
the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers of the United States and Canada, the Independent Distributors of the Great Lakes Region, and the American Society of Tool Engineers.
DO NOT get the idea that these and the hundreds of other conventions assembling in key cities every year go where they go as the result of a sudden impulse. A lot of organized planning, much ingenious salesmanship, and a strong co-operative effort, are needed to swing any gathering of importance to any one community. There are times when as many as twenty rival towns do battle before directors’ meetings or from the convention platform for the honor and the profits attached to such friendly mass invasions. It may take five years of persistent campaigning to persuade a major convention to spend its money in your home town. *
Upward of fifty large cities on the continent maintain convention bureaus whose year round job it is to scheme, plot and connive to bring more and more annual meetings into their communities. Some of them function as a part of the local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade organization. Some are supjx>rted outright by the municipalities they serve. All of them have one thing in common. They are out for business, and they will go to any lengths within the limits of a certain broad code of ethics to land it. Their head men admit cheerfully that grabbing a convention is a cut-throat business. One bureau official is widely quoted as having said that their coat-of-arms should display a horizontal forefinger being drawn sharply across an outstretched neck just above the Adam’s apple.
Convention go-getters combine for mutual advantage in their International Association of Convention Bureaus, with headquarters on Broadway, New York. The membership of this organization fluctuates because of a by-law that prohibits cities holding membership unless the executive head of their convention bureau has been actively in office for at least two years. So it comes about that, of Canadian cities, only Toronto is in the Association this year. Montreal and Winnipeg, both former members, have recently changed bureau managers and their new executives have not yet qualified.
The Toronto Convention and Tourist Association is constructed on lines differing from most of the others. It is almost entirely a self-supporting organization, financed by merchants, hotel managements and industrialists of the city. Eighty-eight firms are listed as full members of the Association in the annual report for 1940. There are fifty one additional subscribers, and ten hotels contribute on an assessment basis scaled to the number of rooms they contain. The Toronto Association is now fifteen years old. T. H. R. McNally has been manager of the bureau since 1938. W. R. McLarty is Manager McNally’s assistant and Mrs. J. H. Simundson is secretary-treasurer. On the list of officers the Mayor of Toronto is always the honorary president, and a director. The 1941 president of the Association is Charles Q. Ellis, of Birks-Ellis-Ryrie. Of the two vice-presidents, John C. Porter, advertising manager of the Robert Simpson Company, represents the commercial firms, and P. Kirby Hunt, manager of the King Edward, the hotels. There are fifteen directors ar.d an executive committee of twelve. Honorary directors speak for three service clubs —Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions.
Last year the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association spent $27,786 from a total revenue of $29,067 in its efforts to coax various conventions into the city and take care of them after they got there.
Of this sum $3,653 went for booklets and similar printed matter, and since it is essentially a selling organization, $2,518 for transportation and travelling expenses.
Salaries are naturally the biggest single item in the Association’s budget, but an information kiosk curated during the summer months cost $1,492 and there is a postage expenditure that runs to $1,319.
Convention bureaus write a lot of letters.
Toronto’s two leading hotels, the Royal York and the King Edward, both have convention departments of their own, working in close collaboration with the Convention Association. G. R. Street is convention manager for the Royal York.
Paul H. Borradaile handles the job for the King Edward. Both hostelries are exceptionally well equipped with convention services. The Royal York has 36,880 square feet on one convention floor, with two large auditoriums, a ballroom and two smaller rooms available. The King Edward has its ballroom, the commodious Alexandra Room reception rooms and mezzanine space, as well as several parlors and committee rooms. Air-conditioning, motion-picture and loud-speaker installa-
tions are included in the facilities offered by both hotels.
It is necessary to get these details into the record in order to establish the fact that Toronto possesses unusual advantages as a convention city. This, you might think, should be enough. In the face of such attractions, how could any convention in its right mind dream of calling its delegates to order any place else?
The thing doesn’t work out that way. Cleveland has excellent convention facilities too, including a vast municipal auditorium. Chicago is conveniently located for almost every delegate on the continent. Atlantic City has specialized for years on convention business; and there’s New York that is—well, it is New York, and that’s enough for a lot of people.
Plan of Action
CO IT becomes necessary every time Toronto decides to ^ go after a convention, to prepare in advance a definite and clear-cut plan of campaign. If Toronto yearns to have the International Alliance of Better Mousetrap Manufacturers stage its annual jamboree in the Queen City, say in 1945, the first steps toward that eminently desirable end will most likely be taken this year.
As a beginning, Mr. McNally or his assistants, or Mr. Street, or Mr. Borradaile, or, more likely, all of them, will study a list of Toronto members of the I.A.B.M.M. Convention managers number their friends by the hundred and their acquaintances by the thousand, so that it is almost certain that among the local mousetrap tycoons there will be two or three or half a dozen men with whom one or another of the convention bureau heads plays golf, curls, or makes a fourth at bridge; men they call by their first names. Through these members of the Better Mousetrap Alliance a movement will be launched to encourage a trek to Toronto in 1945. When the Toronto delegates go to this year’s convention they will spread the word among their fellow members, especially among those who are in key executive positions, that Toronto is a swell town to hold a convention in. The idea at this stage is to plant the seed. Probably no official of the convention bureau will appear in person this year, or next. The local members can be relied upon to do satisfactory spade work.
But, around 1943, the campaign will begin to get hot. That’s when the conniving starts. Manager McNally may go to that convention accompanied by trunks full of advertising literature speaking highly of Toronto, brightly colored buttonhole badges in the shape of a maple leaf bearing the name “Toronto” in gold on their faces, twelvefoot-long banners to hang in convention halls, suggesting in white letters on a navy-blue ground that Toronto is the place for the 1945 convention. He will meet up with rival convention-bureau managers and strive to get the real lowdown on the situation, overlooking no angles. Often there are deals to be made behind the scenes. “If the Toronto delegation votes for Peoria in 1944, will you fellows come with us for the 1945 doings?” That sort of thing. By the time the 1943 show is over the Toronto people will know pretty much where they stand.
The final assault in force will be delivered at the 1944 convention. This time there’ll be an official invitation from the mayor, from the provincial premier; even—if the gathering is of international importance—from the Prime Minister of Canada. New booklets brought up to date and
listing the Toronto attractions calculated to be of special interest to the delegates will be on every chair at every meeting, along with maple-leaf folders displaying a cartoon of Uncle Sam shaking hands with a Mountie—this particular nifty was copied from a cover on a Detroit automobile magazine—and the inspiring message: “Between us a
border is no barrier! Step over for a visit—a hearty Canadian welcome awaits you in Toronto.” There’ll be more Toronto buttons and more people wearing them. Long before the question comes to a vote every delegate will have been canvassed on behalf of the Queen City.
Meanwhile Toronto officials are talking turkey to directors and members of the Better Mousetrap Alliance’s executive committee who are hard-boiled parties well equipped with sales resistance, and strongly fortified against the appeal of such sentimental pretties as maple leaves and banners. These men have to be sold on Toronto’s exceptional services. The Canadians have a good story to tell. The convention facilities at the Royal York contain the largest space all on one floor of any hotel on the continent. A few others may offer as great a total area, but the rooms are scattered throughout the hotel, a much less convenient plan than Toronto offers. At both the Royal York and the King Edward, conventions enjoy the use of the halls, ballrooms, parlors and auditoriums without charge. At Exhibition Park, the Coliseum and the Automotive Building are available for mass meetings and displays. The City of Toronto owns them and conventions occupy them and use them without having to pay for the privilege. The fact that the Exhibition grounds are used as a military training camp adds an extra spice to the show. The Department of Defense and the local military authorities do everything possible to co-operate with the city in this respect.
FIFTEEN years experience has taught the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association a lot of things useful to organizations meeting in the city. The Association will provide competent and good-looking young ladies to handle registrations. It will furnish bonded cashiers to take care of convention transactions involving cash. It will mail illustrated folders and maps explaining Toronto and its environs to every member of the convening body, together with a personal invitation from some highly placed official—as a means of boosting attendance. All this without cost to the convention. It will assist in planning the entertainment program, arrange for bands, concert parties, even complete cabaret shows, at a rock-bottom price, supply guest cards for golf clubs and yacht clubs, plan sight-seeing tours, theatre nights, teas and fashion shows for the ladies, stag parties for the foot-loose bachelors.
When international organizations visit Toronto there often is a customs problem to be solved, especially if an exhibition is to be held in connection with the convention. Mr. McNally and his men will take care of that, arranging through a customs broker for the passage of items entitled to enter duty free, and paying the tax on advertising matter, samples and souvenirs not on the free list. The Association gets a drawback from the Internal Revenue Department on such of these latter articles as are returned to the United States. This customs business may amount to quite a load. The last time the American Hospital Association held its convention in Toronto —1939—exhibits valued at more than $2,500,000 were shipped from all parts of the United States, entered free, and returned to their owners without a single error.
All these are excellent general reasons why conventions should choose Toronto as their meeting place. Sometimes there are special compelling causes. The National Association of Dyers and Cleaners picked on the Queen City because the Association plans a drive to strengthen its Toronto membership. A larger than usual number of Americans interested in fire protection came across the border for this year’s fire fighters’ convention because experts were here from England to explain and demonstrate methods used in bombed cities to combat incendiary attacks. Members of the American Waterworks Association want to explore at first hand Toronto’s recently completed filtration plant; and the International Apple Association is meeting in Toronto because its American members are anxious about the recent falling off of sales of Americangrown apples in this country. They’re going to study the problem on the spot.
Labor conditions often are a major consideration in the final choice of a convention city. Toronto is better off than most United States cities in this respect. New York is probably in the worst position on the continent in the matter of extor-
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ticnate labor demands, and many conventions that include exhibitions wouldn’t go within a hundred miles of the Bronx for that reason. A classic example of New York labor’s greediness that conventionbureau executives are fond of quoting, tells of an exhibitor who was forced to hire three men and a foreman at a cost of $59 —to plug an electric appliance into a wall socket. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Toronto where the labor unions, although powerful, are willing to co-operate wkh conventions and exhibitions, taking the long view that the more people there are who come to Toronto and like it, the more work there’ll be for everybody.
Battle of Wits
rT'HESE then, are the chief and orthodox reasons why a convention decides to meet in any given city. Details of the formula vary with different locations. New Orleans salesmen talk up Creole cooking, Montreal describes itself as the Paris of America, Atlantic City hands out boxes of salt-water taffy, Louisville raves about the blue-grass country, and so on. But generally speaking the pattern of the selling argument follows similar lines in each case, emphasizing convenience of location, ample hotel accommodation, abundant and efficient convention services.
Odd things do happen, though, when the competition between rival communities for the capture of some especially juicy plum develops into a neck-and-neck race to the wire. Oldtimers in the convention snatching game, T. H. R. McNally of Toronto, Sam Fowlkes of New Orleans, Colonel Ralph Logsden of Memphis, William T. Buckley of Buffalo, A. H. Skean of Atlantic City, and the daddy of the clan, D. Lee Barratt of Detroit, sometimes may be persuaded to tell tales out of school dealing with sinister skulduggery and artful devices contrived to swing a close decision.
It was the wily Mr. McNally who once grabbed a fat convention right from under the sharp nose of a keen competitor by coaxing feminine pressure to bear down heavily on his behalf. Onthe evening before the final decision was to be made, Toronto’s champion bought up the hotel flower shop’s entire stock of orchids. Beside the breakfast plate of the wife of every member of the executive committee next morning was a corsage of exoticblooms as big as a soup tureen, with a card carrying the compliments of Toronto, the Queen City of Canada. The ladies loved it. They spoke enthusiastically of Mr. McNally and his town to their influential husbands, and that convention was held in the Canadian city the next year.
The boys play tricks on one another. A highly favored subterfuge is the fake telephone call. Upon a given morning half a dozen or more representatives of competing cities will be waiting for interviews with key executives in whose hands rests the decision as to the convention’s next meeting place. Suddenly a soprano-voiced page boy is heard shrilling through the
corridors, “Call for Mr. Spivis,” and when Mr. Spivis detaches himself from the group he is told that his home city urgently desires to talk to him by long distance. It takes unusual strength of will to resist the pressing appeal of a long-distance telephone call; but if Mr. Spivis yields he will find himself tangled up with delays, broken connections and similar timedevouring expedients until the chance to submit his case to the convention executive may have vanished with the fleeting minutes.
There are reports of even more drastic measures. One time the representative of a certain city—not a Canadian community—conceding defeat on the night before the executive committee was to record its decision, invited a picked handful of committee members to a party, “Just to show I can take a licking like a good sport.” A perfect host, the convention salesman kept the frolic going until came the dawn. It has been whispered that he further reinforced his mischievous enterprise by cancelling several switchboard calls left for the morning’s awakening. So, when the chairman called the committee meeting to order most of the members pledged to support this cunning man’s opposition were still in bed, and it was no trick at all for his friends to put across a snap vote in his favor.
These and similar stratagems are recognized as correct procedure by convention-bureau managers. The one thing that is frowned upon is the outright purchase of a convention. It is considered highly unethical for a city to come forward and say: “We’ll donate $5,000 cash to
your organization if you’ll come to us next year.” This used to be done. It rarely, if ever, happens today. Convention cities must sell themselves on their merits.
AND, ONCE you’ve got your convenYL tion, what good is it going to do you? Some plain citizens with jumpy nerves think that the presence of a convention in their town is by no means an unmixed blessing. Overcrowded hotels and restaurants irritate their tender feelings, and they resent being pushed around on their own sidewalks by people they never heard of.
The convention bureaus have all the best of this argument. Although it has been proved impossible to discover with scientific exactitude just how much money any given convention will leave in a community, a series of surveys have been made by the personal-questionnaire method that supply a reasonably accurate approximation.
A Toronto survey based on reports from 3,000 delegates to different conventions shows that the average daily expenditure for hotel rooms, meals and goods purchased, including liquor, is $33.36 per person. The lowest sum reported in this survey was $8.35 a day; the highest $51. The Toronto bureau figures that the majority of all Canadian convention visitors spend between $14 and $18 a day.
The general average is higher because American visitors, taking advantage of the $100 duty exemption allowed them, invest heavily in Canadian and British made articles of proved superiority to similar American products, notably woollens, linens, china and leather goods.
A more elaborate recapitulation prepared some years ago by a firm of chartered accountants for the American Hotel Association, charts not only the expenditures of delegates, but the distribution of convention money in the community. Contrary to general belief, the hotels get only a small proportion of the delegate’s dollar. This rejjort shows that thirty-one per cent goes to retail stores, twenty-three lier cent to hotels, eighteen per cent to restaurants, ten per cent to garages and eight per cent to theatres. The remaining ten per cent is scattered among miscellaneous payments—taxis, tips, telephone calls, telegrams, postcards to the folks at home, newspapers and the like.
Convention experts think that delegates and their friends will spend more heavily than ever in Canadian cities this year and next. This, for several reasons. Recent political events have served to bring the people of the United States and Canada into a closer, more understanding—even affectionate—-relationship than has ever before existed in the history of the two countries. We are united in a common cause against dictatorships. Most visitors to Canada from across the border realize how that their U. S. dollars, spent here, will return to them, and that they are actually helping their own defense effort by purchasing Canadian goods. Also, the exchange rate is strongly in their favor. Every tourist agency and every publicity organization in the Dominion is stressing these points. Many formerly existing prejudices have been entirely reversed during the past few months. Further than that, the United States, with a tremendous industrial revival induced by the demand for war materials for shipment to the democracies and for her own defense, is more prosperous now than she has been since 1929.
Some conventions are bigger spenders than others. Doctors and dentists are more lavish than most, for some unaccountable reason. Lawyers can be generous, too. Bankers, notoriously conservative in their attitude toward expenditures of any sort, are well down on the list. Labor gatherings spend freely, because their delegates are allowed expense money by their local unions, and so they don’t have to count pennies drawn from their personal funds. The same is true of conventions of star insurance salesmen who are given free trips to convention cities, all expenses paid, as a reward for their exceptional achievements.
Toronto has booked already two major international conventions for next year. The North American Wild Life Conference will bring upward of 1,200 naturalists, conservationists, sportsmen and their associates into the city. And Toronto will entertain the 1942 convention of International Rotary.
The Rotary convention is one of the world’s biggest. Convention-bureau managers speak of it with profound respect as “a million-dollar piece of business.” There will be, at a conservative estimate, 10,000 Rotarians and Rotarians’ wives and families in town once this show gets under way, and they’ll remain for the best part of a week. The Royal York’s Mr. Street, observing greater prosperity in the United States, close harmony between Canadians and Americans and a number of other helpful factors, figures that the Rotary convention will be worth $2,000,000 to Toronto. Convention Association manager McNally, a cautious man, hesitates to go that far out on the Rotary limb. He says: "A million dollars, anyway. It may run to a million and a half.”
Brother, that ain’t hay !