TED conference moving to Vancouver.
Greg Klassen, the senior vice-president of marketing for the Canadian Tourism Commission, one day in December, was summoned to a confidential meeting at Tourism Vancouver.
In the room were Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, the global cultural conference that brings together the world’s best thinkers and doers, and Rick Antonson, Tourism Vancouver CEO.
The meeting lasted only 30 minutes, but they wanted to talk about something so risky that if word leaked out at all, it would be dead forever.
With a racing heart and sweaty palms, Klassen listened as Anderson and his Vancouver operations director, Katherine McCartney, a longtime friend of Antonson, said they wanted to move the worldwide cultural phenomenon to Vancouver from Long Beach, Calif. At the same time, TED would move its TEDActive simulcast conference to Whistler from Palm Springs.
For nearly three decades the conference — known for its motto of “Ideas Worth Spreading” and its popular TED Talks interviews — has called California home. That it was considering leaving the United States to come to Canada was, for Klassen and Antonson, stunning. This was the Holy Grail of conferences, so big in fact that it might even be viewed on the same level as the idea for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics — whose birth, ironically, had taken place 15 years earlier around the same table.
“I turned to Katherine and said ‘I thought I was coming for Oprah. I never thought it was this big,’” Klassen recalled Monday.
To the uninitiated, bringing the 1,400-delegate TED conference to Vancouver may not seem like much. After all, this is an Olympic city that knows how to put on a show.
But then, TED is so rarefied, with its agenda of provocative leaders and speakers, that each of the attendees — many of them influencers and thought-changers in their own right — have to submit an essay on why they should be allowed to buy a $7,500 ticket.
The conference, one of the world’s most influential incubators of ideas about technology, entertainment and design (thus, TED), has become so popular that more than 1,000 of its speeches, which since 2006 are now indexed online, have received more than one billion views.
The main conference and a second global conference based in Edinburgh, Scotland, have featured everyone from presidents of countries and leading scientists to business leaders and social innovators. For 18 minutes, speakers talk about their area of passion or knowledge in the hope of igniting more discussion, ideas and action. Among the luminaries have been Sir Ken Robinson, Stephen Hawking, Pranav Mistry, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Sal Khan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
The phenomenon of TED has generated regional conferences such as TEDx Vancouver, held here last year, and even a TED Prize, a $1 million award for an idea that will change the world.
But now, as the production heads toward its 30th anniversary, Anderson and his collaborators wanted to move the concept even more broadly onto an international stage.
“We looked at a lot of cities in the U.S, especially on the west coast,” Anderson said in a telephone interview. “In Vancouver, we found a special combination of things we didn’t find anywhere else and it got us really excited. It is a combination of an amazing city which is reflective of the values people hold. There is a feeling of looking forward, a commitment to excellence, of innovation and sustainability. Just a bustling energy, which is thrilling.”
Anderson said TED faces a risk of alienating some of its broad corporate support, much of it American, by relocating to Vancouver. But he believes the concept’s message of provoking innovative thought is so compelling that supporters will see the benefit in moving to Canada.
TED already has a strong presence in Vancouver. After Anderson bought the conference from its founder, Richard Saul Wurman, in 2000 for $14 million, he moved 40 conference operations staff here. Another 50 people work in New York, the base of operations for Sapling Foundation, the non-profit that owns TED.
The deal will see TED hold its signature conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre in both 2014 and 2015, and perhaps permanently. Registration for the Vancouver and Whistler conferences, which take place March 17-21, 2014, opens later this month.
No city money has gone into getting the conference, but it was not without cost. To seal the deal, a consortium made up of the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism Vancouver, Vancouver Convention Centre and Vancouver Hotel Destination Association agreed to make an unspecified cash contribution over the next two years to defray some of the cost of creating costly new staging within the convention centre that emulates TED’S current format, including raised seating and special lighting.
The participating hotels also agreed to make concessions of their own, Klassen said.
The potential deal was kept so secret that not even Mayor Gregor Robertson or city manager Penny Ballem were told about it until last week, when the final details were worked out, Klassen said.
Robertson said Monday that he can’t think of a better fit for Vancouver’s emerging image as a global city of thinkers, and he wants to take ideas that come out of the conference and put them to use here.
“I’ve been on a quest to land a premier world event in Vancouver for several years,” he said. “Our interests stem from the huge global exposure of TED and Vancouver’s brand, which is something we’ve been cultivating for some time. This is a great boost, particularly around big ideas and turning them into action.”
Photo credit: TED2014