Calgary

Corporate Calgary's Christmas parties 'killed' by economic downturn

Event planner David Howard is used to planning elaborate, red-carpet Christmas parties for his corporate clients, which include everything from acrobats pouring champagne from the ceiling to skaters performing during a cocktail reception. But this year, his Day-timer's wide open.

Event Group planner David Howard says corporate Christmas parties have plunged by 90%

Caterer Aaron Cruere says Alberta's economic woes are hitting his industry hard: 'To start your fall season off going, we are already one-third down in income, is kind of an awakening, to say the least.' (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

David Howard is used to planning elaborate, red-carpet Christmas parties for his corporate clients, which include everything from acrobats pouring champagne from the ceiling to skaters performing during a cocktail reception — on real ice.

But this year, Howard, who owns The Event Group, says his Day-timer is wide open.

Event planner David Howard says his company has seen a 90 per cent drop in corporate Christmas parties this year. (Colleen Underwood/CBC )

"With Christmas parties, we're seeing the same as what happened with Stampede— that 90 per cent of my clients are cancelling them," said Howard. "I mean, you can't be a public company and your shares are cut in half, and suddenly you are spending a half a million on a Christmas party. It really doesn't look good."

Howard says the majority of his clients are foregoing parties altogether, but some are just cutting back on the party's budget, whether it's the menu, entertainment or open bar.

'Everyone is having a little bit of a panic,' caterer says

But he says he's never been hit so hard by an economic downturn since he began planning parties in 1997.

"In Calgary, it's killed our business, quite frankly — and it's not only event planners and event companies, but it's catering, it's rentals, it's affected our whole industry."

In Calgary, it's killed our business, quite frankly — and it's not only event planners and event companies, but it's catering, it's rentals, it's affected our whole industry.- David Howard, owner of The Event Group

Aaron Creurer, who runs Red Tree Catering, says he realized things were going to be grim this holiday season when he started calling his previous corporate catering clients in September and found out many were doing away with their Christmas parties.

"To start your fall season off going, 'We are already one-third down in income' is kind of an awakening, to say the least."

Creurer says it's not just clients in the oilpatch who are cancelling or scaling back on their events. 

"Everyone is having a little bit of a panic about the marketplace and, as they told us, it's going to get worse before it gets better, and it's living up to that."

Enmax cancels Christmas party 'to be sensitive'

A spokesperson with Enmax says the firm made the difficult decision to cancel its company-wide employee Christmas party this year.

It is important in this challenging economic climate to be sensitive and caring to our fellow Calgarians, many of whom are facing some tough times.- Doris Kaufmann Woodcock on why Enmax cancelled its corporate Christmas party

"Basically, while cost was considered, we feel that in providing an essential service to Calgary, it is important in this challenging economic climate to be sensitive and caring to our fellow Calgarians, many of whom are facing some tough times," said Doris Kaufmann Woodcock, senior media relations advisor with Enmax, in an email to CBC News.

Instead, the company is urging its leaders to consider low-cost options like potlucks. It's also providing complimentary Zoolights tickets to its staff, at no additional cost, because it's a sponsor of the Calgary Zoo. 

Howard says he agrees with the policy of cancelling lavish events at Christmas time, because it doesn't look right to shareholders. But he says workers still need for some type of celebration this time of year.

​"You just lost half your workforce, and you need to show them that jobs are secure and you appreciate their efforts because so many people are looking around, 'Am I next?'"

Companies urged to get creative

Howard says for less money, larger companies can get creative by hosting a concert or a speaker event for their staff and customers.

And Creurer says that because some people can't afford a full-on, catered event, he has started to provide a drop off and set up service, and help with do-it-yourself parties.

"We are being proactive about the situation. We are actually going through a whole rebranding and a review of our company and we're really moving forward during this time, expanding into different marketplaces, so that we next year won't be so reliant on the oil and gas." 

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