Cancel Christmas — the corporate party at least

Calgary cuts back on holiday trimmings as oil downturn continues

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau poses for photos for fans during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alberta, July 3, 2015. Todd Korol/Reuters

(Todd Korol/Reuters)

CALGARY — The era of the big-ticket corporate holiday bash appears to be on life support in Calgary.

“We produce events across North America and everywhere else we’re fine, but in Calgary we’re down 80 per cent,” said David Howard, president of The Event Group, a party planning company in the city.

In the past, Howard said, he’s organized extravagant events in the city that cost upwards of a million dollars. But energy companies have since returned to reality and are spending far less — both because of budget constraints and public perceptions.

This year, they’re cutting back even further — or cancelling parties altogether — as layoffs and low oil prices continue to hammer the industry.

“We’ve chatted with a lot of our clients and advised them on holding back this year,” Howard said. “You have a lot of oil-and-gas companies that went through a ton of layoffs, their stock prices dropped, so it really isn’t the best time right now to be doing an event.”

Suncor Energy says it’s not hosting a large employee party this year but will still have regional family events, while Cenovus Energy says it’s cancelled its corporate Christmas bash entirely.

“We’ve reduced all of our discretionary spending in light of the current economic climate, so we are not holding a corporate Christmas party this year,” said Cenovus spokesman Brett Harris.

Power utility Enmax has also cut its official party out of respect for customers facing tough economic times, said spokeswoman Doris Kaufmann Woodcock. The company is instead encouraging its managers to consider low-cost options like potlucks.

Some companies, however, had actually ditched the fancy company-funded holiday party well before the downturn.

Both Husky Energy and Enbridge are going ahead with their usual employee-funded parties this year, while TransCanada hasn’t had a large-scale Christmas party in recent years and instead leaves it up to small units within the company to decide how to celebrate.

Pam McCarthy at Five Star Events says that even with the cutbacks, it’s important that companies go ahead with some sort of event.

“If they don’t do it, even in some small way, then that’s not good for morale,” McCarthy said.

“So instead of a massive dinner dance with a band, they might be doing something more low-key, whether it’s a luncheon or an after-work at a pub. Very few companies are cancelling their event altogether, they’re just doing it on a smaller scale.”

Paddy Sorrenti of Sorrenti’s Catering says that he’s experiencing cancellations and a lot of downsizing of oil-and-gas Christmas parties, but outside of the sector, business is still looking good.

“We have a lot of non oil-and-gas clientele, and most of them are still full-tilt with their parties, but they’ve never, ever been super-extravagant,” said Sorrenti.

And while Calgary’s oil-and-gas industry may be cutting back, some companies in the city are still throwing big parties.

Heather Lundy, director of marketing and communications for the Telus Convention Centre, says she’s seen only about a 15 per cent drop in Christmas party bookings, and the companies returning this year haven’t cut their attendance numbers or their budgets.


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