Skift Take

Tapping into local experts like Dr. Vikram Misra, a professor in microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan, is helping Destination Canada attract meetings, break down silos, and drive long-term economic growth.

As the industry charts a path to recovery, smart destination marketing and management organizations (DMMOs) are promoting business events by elevating regional expertise over infrastructure, venue capacity, and access. Destination Canada is staying ahead of the curve by continuing to leverage local innovation clusters in sectors like life science, technology, natural resources, agribusiness and advanced manufacturing.

At our most recent Skift Global Forum event, Destination Canada joined us to discuss how their forward-thinking business events strategy advances the expertise of local researchers, academics and thought leaders to differentiate various Canadian regions in the global meetings marketplace and spur economic development. Now, we’re taking a closer look at the innovators who bring this strategy to life, starting with Dr. Vikram Misra, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

Misra, who studies bats and herpes to understand the relationship between stress and viruses, has helped position Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as a leading innovation cluster for life sciences research. Misra moved from Vancouver to Saskatoon, a small riverside city in the Canadian prairies in 1979, and he stayed because “It’s cosmopolitan enough that you have everything a big place does, but on a smaller and more doable scale.” Despite its size, Saskatoon receives 30 percent of all federal biotech funding in Canada. Adding to its appeal as a hub for infectious disease research and vaccine development, it’s home to Canada’s only synchrotron, a state-of-the-art imaging system.

“The synchrotron is a huge draw for scientists from around the world,” Misra said, “as is the VIDO-InterVac [the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre], one of the leading laboratories trying to understand the coronavirus so we can develop a vaccine.”

In 2018, with Misra’s help, Saskatoon hosted the International One Health Congress, where delegates explored how human, environmental and animal health are interconnected, and how each discipline can work together to combat infectious diseases. “A lot of these problems are very complex,” Misra said, “and in order to solve them, people from different disciplines and experiences need to come together and share their points of view.”

Collaborative problem-solving among scientists, health care professionals, educators, and government policymakers was one of the hallmarks of the event. “Scientists can be fairly myopic,” Misra explained. “We focus on our science, and we don’t always realize that the people who make policy might have a completely different set of priorities, and unless we speak to those priorities, nobody will even listen to us.”

Misra’s particular area of study, North American bats and their relationship with viruses, has become, given global concerns about coronavirus, increasingly aligned with policy priorities around the world. He believes that studying bats and their relationship with viruses could help us better understand coronaviruses like Covid-19. “Our thought is that when you stress animals, they are less able to control their viruses, and so that’s one of the reasons why viruses spill out from one species to another.”

Last year, Misra worked closely with Tourism Saskatchewan and Tourism Saskatoon on a bid to host the International Bat Research Conference. “We got really close to winning the bid, but we lost to Austin, Texas, because organizers wanted to piggyback with another bat meeting that was happening in the southern United States that year.”

Misra’s close collaboration with these local DMMOs led to Saskatoon winning two major bids in 2018: The aforementioned International One Health Congress and the 73rd International Conference on Diseases in Nature Communicable to Man, one of the longest-running zoonosis meetings in the world. By shining a spotlight on Saskatoon’s industry-leading biotech assets and fueling interest in the area, these meetings demonstrated the success of Destination Canada’s strategy in uniting meetings, tourism, and economic development.

“[The DMMOs] were extremely helpful and provided us with all of the infrastructural help,” Misra said. “In addition, the University of Saskatchewan received a $50,000 grant from the city to help organize the One Health Congress. We’ve got a very forward-thinking city and a very forward-thinking mayor, so we’re very fortunate to have this great partnership.”

At the nationwide DMMO level, Destination Canada recognized Misra’s enthusiasm and convinced him to appear in a video promoting Saskatoon and other cities in the life sciences sector. As Misra said in the video, “the future of science, technology, health care, or anything you can think about is cooperation and collaboration between disciplines. If you want to be successful you have to be open to possibilities, so come and see us.”

Get to Know Dr. Vikram Misra

  • In addition to bats, Misra studies how stress triggers the herpes virus in humans. “We’re trying to figure out how the virus knows when you’re stressed, and that has led to some exciting side projects on how our neurons send stress signals when they have to repair themselves.”
  • Despite his role in veterinary microbiology, he’s not a veterinarian. “I’m a virologist, and I teach veterinarians. I love horses, but I couldn’t diagnose them.”
  • He has a pet horse named Ambershan: “We’ve had lots of pets over the years: Dogs, cats, even small herds of muskox and cattle. But we’re sort of winding down in the pet department now. All I have left is my horse.”
  • He rowed crew for the Saskatoon Rowing Club and played competitive polo for over 20 years
  • His first job in Vancouver was working at McDonald’s: “One thing fantastic about working for McDonald’s is that you very soon realize you need an education. Getting started in this field was completely serendipitous, but once I got into it, I found I really liked viruses.”

For more information about Destination Canada’s work within priority economic sectors and how they can benefit business events, visit Destination Canada Business Events.

This content was created collaboratively by Destination Canada Business Events and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.


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Tags: Destination Canada, Destination Canada 2020, destination marketing, meetings and events, SkiftX Creative Studio, SkiftX Showcase: Destinations, SkiftX Showcase: Meetings and Events

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