Canadian conference centres, airports, stadiums join rush for anti-pandemic status

CALGARY — Operators of Canada's conference centres, airports and stadiums are joining a global rush to be certified as pandemic-resistant while they compete for events and visitors that will bring billions of dollars in economic benefits for their cities.

In recent weeks, convention centres in Edmonton and Calgary, B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver and the Trudeau International Airport in Montreal have reported achieving GBAC Star accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a division of international cleaning industry association ISSA.

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"It's important when the messaging goes out that it is that 'Calgary is a safe destination for conventions,'" said Kurby Court, CEO of the Calgary Telus Convention Centre, who said he is fielding booking inquiries for events three or four years in the future, potentially long after a vaccine has been developed for COVID-19.

"When you're comparing destinations, this will be one of the deciding factors moving forward. Safety and biorisk is not going away."

The accreditation is designed to show that training has taken place and there's a proven system of cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention for staff and buildings to head off biohazards like the novel coronavirus.

Facilities must follow specific criteria to show compliance with the program’s 20 elements, which range from standard operating procedures and risk assessment to personal protective equipment and emergency preparedness and response measures.

On Friday, Illinois-based ISSA unveiled a searchable database on its website for its growing list of accredited facilities.

"The GBAC Star program has more than 250 facilities accredited and 3,000-plus committed to accreditation in more than 80 countries, with additional facilities added daily," said GBAC executive director Patricia Olinger.

The accredited list includes more than a dozen Hyatt hotels in locations that range from Danang, Vietnam, to San Francisco, along with airports, industrial sites and retail buildings around the globe.

"People spend a lot of time inside our terminal building when they travel, the same way they do when they go to a convention centre or a stadium," said Anne-Sophie Hamel, spokeswoman for Trudeau International, adding it has also been certified under the Airport Health Accreditation Program offered by Airport Councils International.

"Those accreditations prove that (the airport) will be ready to welcome more passengers in the terminal, as soon as the borders open, and shows our deep commitment to keeping people safe and confident for their future travels."

She said the airport is expecting about 71 per cent fewer passengers this year than last year.

The pandemic has hit airports and convention centres particularly hard because of border lockdowns that prevent people from travelling, along with local bans on large indoor gatherings.

In Calgary, the convention centre's main ballroom was used to temporarily house up to 300 homeless people per night in April, May and June as a measure to enhance social distancing at the downtown Calgary Drop-In Centre shelter.

The room, which can accommodate as many as 4,000 people, has since returned to its usual role of hosting meetings and conferences but business has been less than brisk and the staff count has fallen by more than half.

Some customers have postponed bookings more than once, some events have gone to a "hybrid" model with a mix of in-person and online participation and many events have been cancelled entirely.

"It's in the hundreds of events that have moved," Court said. "It has a tremendous economic effect for the city."

The BMO Centre at Stampede Park in Calgary, which also handles conventions, has also been certified by GBAC and the united front is important for Calgary's reputation as a safe place going forward, Court said.

Certification involved preparing a exhaustive submission and paying a "nominal" registration fee of about $1,000, he said. The certification is to be reviewed annually.

Because of travel bans, no one from the association actually travelled to Calgary, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020.

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