The areas surrounding downtown Toronto fall under a single umbrella organization now that the Ontario Government redefined the regional tourism offices. That’s not to say that Durham, York and the Hills of Headwaters Regions don’t have specific DMO offices and personnel – but it does help to simplify things for planners like you and I who are looking for a spot for groups looking to be close to the airport yet not in the city center. We simply reach out to the Central Counties office and they’ll put us on the right track. These areas act as overflow for Toronto, but are well-equipped to stand on their own for smaller conventions or incentive retreats. There are a wide range of small-mid-and large hotel products for our choosing as well as many offsite and incentive experiences to support those meetings. Being interconnected through an array of efficient ground transportation access points and free parking make these great options for locals, as well as those flown in. And of course, sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city since Ontario has some of the prettiest landscapes. No wonder they define themselves as “Ontario’s Best Kept Secret”.

If you enjoyed our various winery features (Niagara and Richmond episodes), check this out. My aunt just sent me an email recommending the Vancouver Urban Winery which operates within a historic building near the Gastown neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia. The 7,700 square foot winery manufactures, imports and distributes wine for multiple brands. Brands such as FreshTAP Wines, specializing in packaging quality wines in stainless steel kegs for the emerging wine-on-tap category and Roaring Twenties Wine Co. are produced within the Vancouver Urban Winery. Complimenting the stainless steel wine tanks and oak barrels are 24 foot ceilings with multiple skylights providing plenty of natural light, a beautifully appointed wine bar, large exposed wood beams, a grand stone fireplace and a 12 foot hand carved wooden doorway; all of which give this special venue its character and warmth.
Vancouver Urban Winery   |   +1 604 566 WINE (9463)   |    info@vancouverurbanwinery.com

For how many trips I've made to Vancouver, either for business in that city, or as a hub leading me elsewhere, I didn't realize that I was actually landing in the Richmond, or that it had so much to offer as an airport city. Yes, it's a place to start when you want to head off to Asia, other BC destinations (Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria, Kelowna, etc.), Hawaii and other Pacific hot spots, or even to the American north-west; however, Richmond itself it has its own character. I was amazed to learn that over 65% of the population is Asian. I was shocked to find out the housing prices - a million dollars might get you a tear-down or fixer-upper. And I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of that very expensive land is dedicated to green space, including Terra Nova and Lulu Winery, a community garden and winery we feature on the show. I was impressed that multiculturalism thrives in the city with cohabitation and cooperation amongst the diverse cultures and religions - the 'Highway to Heaven' features houses of worship for Buddhist, Islam, Jewish, Christian, Mennonite and Hindu faiths. If you're looking for competitive rates (compared to its higher priced sister, Vancouver merely 15 minutes away), easy airport in-out access, and still have an opportunity to get out of the boardroom and DO something while you're there, Richmond should be on your radar.

How exciting! Meetings and Conventions PEI has invited our crew to film their 2011 destination planner-FAM. It'll be the first time we haven't had the experience all to ourselves. My initial concern was ensuring the other 16 planners didn't have a compromised experience with our camera gear, lighting, microphones and professional technicians running around. But as it turned out, MCPEI incorporated our team right into the experience, ensuring we were treated just the same - same VIP hotels, unbelievable F&B, generous gifts and professional courtesy. This, in turn, aided the other delegates in seeing our team as 'one of us', and we all got along famously. We were discreet, accommodating, and had fun along the way. And I personally enjoyed meeting fellow Canadian planners. It was a win-win situation! Considering destinations really go above and beyond during a FAM, it was a great opportunity to show the world how it should be done - setting the standard for an outstanding FAM experience. If dealing with MCPEI during the pre-production process is any reflection on how kind, proactive and professional they will be with planners intending to bring their meetings/conventions/incentive groups to the island, it will surely be a success.

We heard from: Rosemary Carroll, Senior Sales Manager, The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald (rosemary.carroll@fairmont.com)
And she suggested: Edmonton is a dynamic location that receives little attention even within Canada, home to North America's largest urban parkland which runs through the heart of the city, which boasts 160 km of multi use trails connecting 22 city parks. The Arts and Couture scene is second to none and, it is home to more than 30 Annual Festivals and Canada's newest Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Alberta. The Shaw Conference Centre’s drapes down to the River's edge and the newly expanded the Edmonton Expo Centre is one of the largest Conference Centre in Canada.

Are you looking for increased exposure for your product or event? FAMTripTV is a great new resource to help fulfill your marketing needs.  Your product could be featured on an upcoming episode of the show.  Not only will FAMTripTV Host, Jennifer Wood, promote your product, it will reach thousands of our viewers from across the world.  FAMTripTV could also help you take your event to the next level with a guest appearance by Jennifer herself. If you are looking for a dynamic emcee, speaker or guest appearance to add splash to your event, please contact Jennifer Wood, The Face Of Group Travel, at jwood@convene.ca or 416.915.1009.

During a hot August day two adults and four children were invited to experience the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours – a great group attraction we unfortunately couldn’t feature during our January filming in the region. Although they had a shuttle from Niagara Falls we opted to drive to their Niagara-on-the-Lake facility. Parking was easy. Registration was a breeze. Change rooms were clean and plentiful so we could change into our bathing suits (we knew we were going to get WET). Their staff were pleasant and knowledgeable. And all six of us couldn’t wipe the smiles off our face after riding the Niagara River rapids! This is an exciting, safe, well-organized option for groups heading into the Niagara region. Check it out for yourself! Call 905.468.4800 or check out www.whirlpooljet.com.

We heard from: Kerry Lowe, Director of Convention & Event Development (kerry@chooselethbridge.ca)
And she suggested: As the economic marketing arm for the City of Lethbridge, we very recently created a convention & event digital showcase.  It highlights the Lethbridge meeting / event landscape, which we will take on the road with us to tradeshows; It will also be available on our website in a few weeks.  We are known as sunny southern Alberta;  Lethbridge – mid-size city with small city charm and big city amenities.  We are one of the most affordable meeting destinations in Alberta and our niche market is 25-700 delegates.  Our city creates a strong impact in terms of value, service and overall experience.  We invite you to view it online www.chooselethbridge.ca to check out the best of what Lethbridge has to offer for meetings or conventions.

We've seen two black bears, an elk, and a coyote as we've been driving in the mountains, and a clan of adorable ground squirrels (look like miniature ground hogs) that live near the chalet at the Lake Louise ski resort. I call ground hogs "fat babies" and they're my favorite animals, so to see a whole bunch of them and to get within 5 ft of them excited me personally. As another personal fave for me, the wildflowers are just starting in the mountains - the gardener in me is in heaven with all the new species I'm discovering - the helicopter co (Icefields Helicopters) gave me a laminated flower chart as a gift - so generous - Ralph and his team were great people! We discovered some of the best pie I've ever eaten (except my mom's of course) at the Lake Louise Station restaurant beside the rail tracks, with their rail-car private dining areas. The strawberry rhubarb a la mode that Asst Mgr Jeff offered was delish - nothing like having dessert before dinner! I'll write more later - just getting ready for shot number one in Banff. Have a great day!

-Jennifer

Hey there. We had an insane day - I jumped off "the leap of faith" after climbing and standing on a telephone pole at the Banff Centre - I'm an adrenaline junkie, but man, I haven’t been that freaked out in a long time! And thrilled!! This evening for dinner I got a western shirt sponsored by local outfitter's Lammel's in Banff before heading into the MountView Western BBQ unique "donut tents" - a round permanent bldg with an open centre to accommodate the massive bonfire. They were so excited we were coming they had 50 people, a live country band, a full hip of beef and amazing home-cooked dinner (incl baked beans, of course), and line dancing lessons that we caught on film. Unbelievable!! We're heading to a few fine dining restaurants shortly then off to the Fairmont Banff Springs for check-in. What a great FAM trip - they all genuinely "get it"!!

-Jennifer

Lake Louise was absolutely stunning with the sun shining our whole leg of the trip. With the theme of Canada's top incentive destination we've been having some amazing adventures on horseback, in a helicopter, in a canoe, and on a gondola. My horse, Disco, and I had a special bond - he nuzzled up to me when I wasn’t on him, and almost fell asleep when I was petting him - must be the dancer in me and his name working together. I'm going to be on a high ropes course this morning as long as we don't get rained out.  I will catch up with everyone from Banff!

-Jennifer

We heard from: Deborah Bouchea, Sales and Events, River Street Riverboat Company
And she suggested: I would like to see Savannah, Georgia featured in addition to a beautiful tourist destination we are the perfect small or large meeting place as well. Our Riverboats are inspiring, fun and delicious.

We heard from: Ken Hill, Convention Sales Manager, Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau
And he suggested: Juneau, Alaska! We do fantastic FAMs up here. Glacier flight seeing. Dog sledding with actual Yukon Quest and Iditarod dog teams. Amazing whale watching. Alpine hiking and some of the world's best salmon and halibut fishing. This place was built for HD!

We heard from: Julie Stewart, Events Manager, Visit Pittsburgh, (Julie.stewart@visitpittsburgh.com)
And she suggested: We would love to have you and your crew come and see all that our city has to offer. 2009 was a year of heroic proportions for us, with a Super Bowl win, Stanley Cup champs, and the G20 Summit! We are known as a leader in green meetings. Our David L. Lawrence Convention Center was the first green convention center in the Nation!

We heard from: Karine St-Gelais, Sales representative, Mont-Tremblant Resort, (kstgelais@intrawest.com)
And she suggested: Mont-Tremblant is an amazing place to be, a perfect spot for a FAM Trip! People often think of Mont-Tremblant as a ski Resort only, but it is so much more! Yes, this is the no. 1 ski Resort in Eastern North America, but this is also the perfect location for an unforgettable meeting, golf tournament, fundraising event and much more.  Located an hour fifteen minutes north of Montreal, two hours from Ottawa, connected with Toronto and New York via Continental Airlines and Porter.

We heard from: Chris Sparkes, Sales Manager, Delta St. John's, (chrissparkes@fortisproperties.com)
And he suggested: The City of St. John's has quickly become one of the most desirable destinations in Canada to host meetings, conferences and incentives. Rising spectacularly from the water’s edge, St. John’s promises you a sophisticated city experience full of small town warmth and the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Visitors will experience our world famous hospitality and friendly service within the oldest city in North America. Keep in mind that one does not have to venture far to experience our rich history, local culture and breathtaking scenery – its right at your doorstep!

We heard from: Linda Olimer, Marketing Coordinator, Tourism Burlington (olimerl@burlington.ca)
And she suggested: Burlington is the home of the renewed Royal Botanical Gardens with is magnificent gardens, trails and events, has a revitalized waterfront, many conservation areas nestled in the world biosphere Niagara Escarpment and will have in 2011 a new performing arts centre. We host a number of free festivals throughout the year including the Sound of Music which features over 70 performers on numerous stages Father's Day weekend and Canada's Largest Ribfest on Labour Day weekend.

Having returned to the crescent city for our first American feature, I came to understand why they call themselves the Europe of the US. It’s another world. Not only is it a different dialect, with unique ways to communicate (e.g. MAKING groceries vs. buying groceries) and confusing north/south orientations, it’s a complete departure from your typical North American big-box city. In fact, I was amused to hear that Starbucks is a relative newcomer to the city having a foothold in tourist and conventioneer spots, with locals actually preferring local service providers. I was thrilled to see that the city has not only overcome the fallout of Katrina (or the weather incident, as some would call it), they’ve risen above, now with the most refreshed and modern city-wide hotel products in the country, and even more of those amazing restaurants now than they had before! They made lemonade out of lemons, and fortunately have the hospitality know-how to shine. I found myself laughing a little louder, relaxing a little deeper and forgetting to count calories with its spectacularly decadent food. I am proud to feature such a beautiful destination; if you haven’t been back in a while, you’ve really got to go!

Although the show will be travelling to many international destinations, our team opted to showcase the Niagara Peninsula for our second episode due to strong encouragement from our viewers. We listened and gave you what you asked for! Since it's only a short drive from Toronto, our crew ended up loading everything but the kitchen sink - it's much easier to travel by road than pack the gear for the plane, it seems. Except for one day when the weather didn't cooperate, we were thrilled to hit the misty-city, Niagara Falls, during a January mild spell. I'm sure many foreigners will be shocked to see so little snow in Canada, mid-winter. Personally I was glad since its tough to navigate slushy city streets in heels. We learned so much from the first shoot that I'm excited to hear your feedback on our changes: everything the shooting style and technical components to changes in my hair and wardrobe options. Let us know what you think of the show, and where you'd like to see us go next!

September 15-18, 2009

My fabulous Toronto crew and I flew with Porter airlines to the city of Ottawa for our first shoot of FAMTripTV.com this morning. The weather is perfect, the flight was smooth, and we are now enroute to the Westin Hotel who will act as our home away from home for the duration of our stay. One of our crew was unable to fly, so VIA1 stepped up and offered him his own VIP transportation, allowing him to meet us just in time for lunch. Partners such as Porter, VIA and Westin make FAMs what they should be: seamless introductions to a destination with strong service standards and high quality infrastructures. They seem to understand the value of ensuring the powerful people on a FAM are taken care of since they are influencers on their bottom line. We have an ambitious schedule ahead of us, starting with our pre-production meeting with all of the partners this afternoon. I anticipate we’ll be awake well before dawn each day, and shooting late into the evening for the next four days. I just hope we’re able to take a breath, enjoy the sights and taste some of the fine cuisine Ottawa has to offer while we’re here. For me, I know I’m looking forward to the Heavenly Beds from the Westin at the end of each busy day!

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