How to Support Small Businesses with Unlocking Economic Impact from Major Events

Introduction & Overview

Major events bring significant economic impact to the downtown core. However, unlocking their full potential demands extensive planning and collaboration. Our recent panel event, “Preparing Vancouver for Large Events,” convened industry experts and stakeholders to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with hosting such events. 

On May 8, 2024, Downtown Van members and stakeholders gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre to hear from Michelle Collens, Director of the Vancouver Sport Hosting Partnership at the City of Vancouver; Tom Conway, CEO at Small Business BC; and Rohaan Sethna, Director of Destination Events at Destination Vancouver 

Each panelist brought a wealth of experience and differing perspectives to the table, spanning event attraction initiatives, the limitations and role of local government, and the small business perspective. Moderated by Jane Talbot, the discussion emphasized the importance of proactive planning and collaboration for successful event execution. 

Panel Highlights

The panel discussion offered a comprehensive overview of the challenges and opportunities associated with event hosting in Vancouver. Here are the key highlights: 

Events with the greatest economic impact:

The discussion explored various types of events with the greatest economic impact, ranging from international sporting tournaments to major conferences and cultural festivals. Events that got the most attention from panelists and audience included Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tours, the Grey Cup, Invictus Games, and annual sporting leagues and playoffs. For Taylor Swift in particular, panelists and audience members proposed partnerships between BIAs and the City of Vancouver to provide grants or funds for creative fan experiences, citing successful examples from Singapore and Chicago. 

Destination Marketing:

Also discussed were meetings and conferences – both large and small – that draw new international visitors and help build Vancouver’s destination reputation on the global stage. The International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in 2025 could draw 48,000 people to the city, while attracting smaller meetings and conferences can set the stage for larger-scale bids. 

Barriers to Economic Benefits of Event Hosting:

Logistics and regulatory barriers are some of the major challenges, pitfalls or barriers keeping Vancouver from capturing the full economic benefits of events, meetings, and conventions. Proactive collaboration across sectors is essential to overcome these challenges. 

Inclusivity for Small Businesses:

Not all businesses will reap equal rewards from large events. Ensuring that small businesses are involved in the lead-up and planning is crucial to maximizing the spread of these impacts while supporting a thriving small business economy. 

Strategic Event Planning:

Considerations for event planning should extend beyond peak seasons. Attracting events during tourism off-seasons and shoulder-seasons can be enormously beneficial for maximizing year-round economic activity. 

Hotels and Accommodation Challenges

Destination Vancouver has projected that Vancouver could be short 20,000 rooms in the region by 2050, half of which will need to be in the city of Vancouver. Further planning is needed to meet the demands of upcoming mega-events like the FIFA World Cup.  

Infrastructure Wish List:   

Drawing parallels with past events like the Olympics which brought us the Canada Line, Olympic Village and other major infrastructure improvements, panelists envisioned a wish list of infrastructure improvements necessary for hosting FIFA World Cup. This highlights the importance of legacy investments that benefit the city beyond the event itself.   

Key Takeaways:
  • Long-term planning is key: Collaboration across partners and a focus on the shoulder seasons and filling gaps in the calendar is necessary to drive year-round impact. 
  • Support small businesses: Foster open lines of communication with small businesses to allow them to get involved. Address barriers such as funding, traffic impacts and permitting processes. 
  • Accommodation capacity: Vancouver is already facing hotel shortages and short-term rental restrictions, so continuing to expand inventory and considering more affordable and flexible options will be key. 
  • Capitalize on Mega-Events: Leverage mega-events like the Taylor Swift concert or the FIFA World Cup to create local activations and experiences that resonate with fans. Prioritize safety, infrastructure and viewing area preparations to ensure a seamless experience for attendees. 
  • Transportation: Modifying public transportation schedules and providing shuttle services could boost access and attendance for events from outside Vancouver.  
  • Cultural Events: Leveraging local cultural events and businesses was seen as a way to boost small businesses and enhance the visitor experience. 
What businesses can do to tap into economic benefits:

Businesses should be capitalizing on the opportunity presented by having large events hosted in Vancouver. Here are some potential actions businesses can take: 

  • Events Planning: Participate in event advisory committees and stay informed on upcoming events. You can find a comprehensive list of events on the Destination Vancouver website here. 
  • Taylor Swift The Eras Tour Activations: Create unique merchandise, experiences, activations to appeal to and engage fans in the city. Read more about how Singapore activated for the Taylor Swift concert here. 
  • FIFA World Cup: Celebrate cultures by displaying flags, colours, and cuisine from teams in Vancouver.  
  • Transportation: Partner with event organizers to provide shuttle services for employees/customers.  
  • Cultural Events: Highlight cultural products/services, create themed menus/experiences during local festivals. See here for a complete multi-faith calendar.  
  • Stay Connected – Strategically: Pick a few events a year to activate around and keep an eye out for them on your calendar.  
Suggestions from the community:

During the event, we also had the opportunity to hear from the audience. They had a number of suggestions that may benefit BIAs, the city and event organizers, including:  

  • Transportation: The lack of extended hours for existing transportation options was flagged as a potential gap. Operators should explore whether routes or hours could be optimized to accommodate events, such as extending West Coast Express hours for events with provincial-wide impact (such as FIFA or the Taylor Swift Eras Tour) to accommodate surges in regional demand.
  • Hotel Capacity and Accommodation Options: Concerns were raised about the availability of accommodations for large events, given the current shortage. Suggestions from the floor included special events zones or temporary licenses where AirBnBs or short-term rentals could operate with fewer restrictions during peak seasons.
  • Community Engagement: When there is alignment, businesses with the flexibility to do so could consider encouraging workers and employees to participate in major events happening downtown after hours or even during the workday.
  • Permitting Processes: Streamlining approval and permitting processes across city departments for events, outdoor activations and temporary installations could help make it easier for businesses to tap into economic or activation opportunities. Agility is key.
  • Promotion of Cultural Events: It was acknowledged that the community at large could do better to leverage and consistently promote smaller annual events to bolster local businesses throughout the year – and that capacity among BIAs may be an ongoing barrier to proactive communications.
  • Facilitating Business Development: Small Business BC, the City of Vancouver, and various BIAs acknowledged that it would be worthwhile to explore how to share more innovative approaches for businesses to capitalize on and engage with fans and visitors for concerts, sporting tournaments, and conventions.
  • Data Sharing and Continuous Collaboration: Questions were raised about the importance of data sharing and collaborative efforts between partners to continuously enhance event planning and maximize positive impacts.

While hosting large events offers economic growth and community engagement, not all businesses will benefit equally. Careful planning, collaboration, and foresight are crucial for Vancouver to thrive as a premier event destination. While these events generate significant economic activity, but they aren’t the sole contributors. A variety of events, both large and small, all contribute to Vancouver’s vibrancy and prosperity. 


To complement our event, we’ve compiled a list of helpful resources for businesses and event organizers. You can find that here.

 Learn more about Downtown Van:  

  • Download the 2024 State of Downtown report here.  
  • For the latest data, refer to our Downtown Vancouver economic dashboard page.  
  • For further information, contact Sean Bailey, Research Analyst ( ) and Ingrid Valou, Manager, Economic Development ( 
  • To stay up to date with what’s going on in downtown Vancouver, follow us on LinkedIn, X, Instagram and TikTok, @downtownvan or listen to our podcast, “Hey, Downtown Van!”.