Tech convention could set attendance record

Local ventures to exhibit technology and recruit staff at Siggraph

Delegates check out exhibits at the 2011 Siggraph, which set a Vancouver convention attendance record. Organizers hope to top 16,000 delegates at this year's event

Local companies are aiming to capitalize when Vancouver hosts what could be the biggest convention in the city's history next month.

The Siggraph – the curious acronym stands for Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Technologies – digital arts and graphics show is slated to come to town August 10 to 14. Three years ago the group set a record for the largest convention held at the Vancouver Convention Centre, drawing 16,000 delegates from 74 countries. Vancouver tourism insiders hope a few more attend this year's Siggraph convention in order to break the record.

“The No. 1 reason we're returning to Vancouver is that we listen to our attendees, and we had very positive feedback,” said Siggraph spokesman Brian Ban. “The city is also very welcoming and wants Siggraph to return. It's an international city. Vancouver's beauty doesn't hurt, and its facilities are terrific. From a walking standpoint, it's also highly attractive.”

Marketers at Tourism Vancouver had been pursuing the group's annual conference for decades, but it was only after the new convention centre opened in 2009 that hosting the event became viable.

The show includes dozens of exhibitors showing their products and plenty of events with speeches about emerging technologies.

Some of the Vancouver-based companies expected to exhibit products include cloud hosting provider Peer 1 Hosting, interactive 3D and augmented-reality venture Ngrain and 3D software and printer manufacturer Tinkerine.

The show will also have a computer animation festival featuring digital films and videos.

Perhaps what is most useful for Vancouver technology companies, however, is the convention's job fair.

“Siggraph is great from a recruiting perspective because there's always a lot of software programmers and hardware engineers walking around the show,” said Point Grey Research Inc. director of sales and marketing Michael Gibbons, who has attended about 10 of the group's conventions.

He said his high-end camera manufacturing company, which is exhibiting at this year's show, usually sends up to five people to the annual conventions. This year, many more of the Richmond-based company's 165 employees will be able to attend the show because their attendance will not require flight and hotel costs.

“Many of our customers exhibit at the show, so Siggraph is a great opportunity for us to meet with them,” said Gibbons.

Vancouver's biggest convention so far this year was the Pacific Dental Conference in March, which drew 12,800 delegates. Others include two in May: the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting, which attracted more than 7,000 delegates, and the Canadian Institute of Mining's May conference, which had about 6,100.

“Last year was a strong year despite the fact that the number of events and attendance were lower than the previous record year,” Vancouver Convention Centre communications manager Jinny Wu told Business in Vancouver.

She explained that convention bookings for the past couple of years have been down because of the 2008 global economic downturn.

“Major conventions are typically confirmed three to five years out,” Wu said.

Coming conventions include two big events in October: the 6,500-delegate Geological Society of America annual meeting and exposition as well as the 4,200-delegate Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

In January 2015, the Modern Language Association's annual convention is expected to draw 7,200 delegates.

Wu said future bookings continue to roll in and that the biggest win for the convention centre to date is getting a commitment from Alcoholics Anonymous to host its 2025 convention, which is expected to draw 48,000 people and be the largest single meeting ever held in Vancouver.