How a DMO Took the TED Stage

Destination Canada partnered with TED on a first-of-its-kind initiative.

Author: Michelle Russell       

video game profession Kris Alexander delivering TED Talk

Kris Alexander, professor of Video Game Design, Virtual Production, and Esports Broadcasting at Toronto Metropolitan University, delivers a TED Talk in New York City that is part of the TED@Destination Canada. (Gilberto Tadday/TED)

The iconic TED conference has been bringing its speakers and audience to Vancouver since 2015. Through a first-of-its-kind partnership, Destination Canada and TED reversed those dynamics and brought the best of Canada to the TED Theater in New York City last month.

Fourteen “remarkable” Canadians — from a video game wizard to renowned psychology professor to architect to polar bear protector — flew into New York City to record their stories for a series of TED Talks that TED will make live on its website over the next year under the TED@Destination Canada banner. The overall theme of the event — “Open” — tied into Destination Canada’s global brand strategy to put Canada on the map as the destination that inspires openness.

Gloria Lorée headshot

Gloria Lorée

Convene sat down with Gloria Loree, senior vice president, marketing strategy & CMO at Destination Canada, for the behind-the-scenes story about this brand-new initiative.

On how the idea to partner with TED first came about:

As we were coming out of COVID, I had put out a note to our international teams who are really creative and based in eight markets around the world. I said, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that we can do things differently and as a world, we’ve changed. Our mission [is meant to] address the fact that we want to enrich our visitors, whether they’re business travelers or leisure travelers, and to make sure what we’re doing is good for all of Canada.

The idea to work with TED came from our colleague in Germany and she said, “What if we all send somebody from each one of our markets and put them on the TED stage?” And I was like, I don’t think TED works like that. I know you can’t even buy a ticket [to attend] without applying — never mind being on that stage. But we looked into it and we learned that there is the TED Institute [a program in which TED works with an organization to produce an event with its internal stakeholders sharing their stories].

They explained that they have worked with companies like Ford Motors and IBM … to build pride amongst their own staff globally and show amongst their staff all the great thinkers they have in all of their offices around the world. And I said, “Well, have you ever worked with a country?” And they’re like, “A whole country? No.” So we kept the discussions going and they really liked the challenge, and they just wanted to make sure that we were clear that we weren’t going to control the stage. There’s no way to buy your way onto any TED stage, which I love about their brand. They treat every one of their events in the same way and you only go on stage if you have an idea worth sharing. And I said, “That’s great because it won’t be legitimate otherwise.”

We have representatives and ambassadors from different sectors who are truly experts in their fields and we really wanted to live up to this idea that a good place to live is a great place to visit and that’s what we stuck to. We worked really closely with TED and their process. I learned a great deal and it was a fantastic experience for our speakers.

Tourism is more than a hotel room and a few seats on an airplane — it’s your country and your economy and your community and your culture that come together.

Destination Canada Ted Talks speakers

Destination Canada received more than 257 applications from Canadians to fill the 14 speaker positions for the TED@Destination Canada initiative. Learn more about the initiative and the 14 Canadian TED Talks speakers here. (Daniel Seung Lee)

On the process of cultivating speakers:

TED has their process based on years of doing this work and everybody had to apply. So we put a call out into our industry, to our ambassadors who work with us in our business sectors, and lots of circles like the Department of Canadian Heritage, and said, “You have to apply if you want to be a TED speaker send in your one-minute video on what your story is — what your idea is that is worth sharing. We did that in the summer of 2022.

And TED said to us, “You know, early summer, you’re not going to get a lot of applicants.” And this was one [instance] where TED underestimated us Canadians. We had over 257 applicants and they told us to maybe hope for 75. But we worked really hard on our outreach into universities and more — that was our ambition, a call to the country.

TED reviews every single applicant, and they do a short list of 16 speakers, then they go to 14.

On making the speaker lineup diverse:

We also were able to bring entertainment as well. They do two pieces of entertainment [on the TED stage as part of the event] and so we were able to bring in a couple of throat singers from the north to bring in a little bit more regionality. Our ambition wasn’t just about geography though. It was about age — we had an 18-year-old young man from Toronto speak and he was just amazing — and diversity from a lot of other ways of thinking about it, whether it’s culture or race.

How the event worked:

The speakers flew to New York City several days before the event on Feb. 23. TED does a day of rehearsals. Then we hosted a reception at a nearby hotel that night. And if we were doing this right and living up to our ambitions, we wanted to invite other nations to the event and so Brand USA came, so did Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Switzerland. It is about sharing great ideas and information.

They did the TED Talks in three stages with a little break in between with the two different entertainment groups. It starts in the early afternoon and then goes to early evening and then we did a reception with our guests and I was really surprised — I think every speaker came over. I thought they’d be curled up in a ball, exhausted in their rooms, and they were just so excited, they loved hanging out together. We had a breakfast with them the next morning and it was like they bonded. There were lots of really wonderful surprises through this, and that was really neat to see them come together from all their different walks of life and parts of the country. And they were just such a great team.

How the TED@Destination Canada Talks will be published online:

We’ll time them throughout the year until September, so they’ll continue to drop them. We’re hoping to time some of them more closely to key dates in tourism calendar or for instance, like National Day for Truth and Reconciliation [Sept. 30]. The videos are available online for three years, and they remain on the TED platform curated together so people can see them in a series.


Gifts That Make a Difference

Destination Canada’s Gloria Loree said her team took a very intentional approach to the New York City TED guest experience, which extended to gifts given at the reception. “We just didn’t want to give them swag in a bag,” Loree said. Guests received moccasins made by Quebec-based Bastien Industries, a company with roots dating back to 1878. Even today, the tops of the moccasins are handmade by Indigenous women in the community. Eventually, the Huron-Wendat People began specializing in making embroidered items using dyed moose hair. The sale of these artisan items not only provides income for Indigenous People, but it also helps them keep their culture alive. (Photo by Daniel Seung Lee)

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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