Banff and Lake Louise: You've likely heard of these Canadian destinations before. Whether it was for their top-notch skiing or standout Fairmont properties (one of which is nestled right on the famous lake), they've rightly ended up on many people's bucket lists. And although leisure tourism is strong in both places—which are located about 30 minutes apart in Alberta's Canadian Rockies—they are also prime destinations for group gatherings.
In late January for its 2024 Incentive Winter event, Destination Canada invited nearly 40 planners and suppliers to experience this firsthand. The three-day program brought the group to both Banff and Lake Louise, with stays at their respective Fairmont hotels, to see how an incentive program looks and feels here as a winter getaway nestled in one of Canada's famous national parks.
"Banff is such a great destination because it's all seasons," says Jennifer Attersall, acting senior director of business events for Destination Canada. "So both destinations could fit into summer or winter programs, but we thought it would be really special to highlight the winter product this year."
Below, we break down the hotels, meeting spaces, cultural significance, and some of the many outdoor winter activities found in Banff and Lake Louise.
Where to Host
Fairmont Banff Springs is also known as Canada's "Castle in the Rockies" and has been around for more than 130 years. The luxury mountain resort offers 739 guest rooms and more than 76,000 square feet of meeting and event space. A standout venue within the hotel is the 2,300-square-foot Mt. Stephen Hall, featuring high ceilings, stained-glass windows, and glazed stone floors. This is where the hotel hosted Incentive Winter's welcome reception, and it enlisted Naomi Langer-McIntosh of Mountainscape Events to transform the room into a cozy mountain retreat.
Banff Springs' Rundle Bar was also a noteworthy space, boasting grand views of the surrounding mountains, and is perfect for breakfasts or welcome receptions.
Up in Lake Louise, the revered Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is surrounded by soaring mountain peaks; the Victoria Glacier; and, of course, the jaw-dropping, emerald-hued Lake Louise. Here, meeting and event space spans 36,000 square feet. Our No. 1 venue pick: the Victoria Ballroom. Its large windows overlook the lake and mountains, and its vaulted ceilings and large stone fireplace evoke an upscale lodge feel.
If you'd like to take your group a short distance from the property, the hotel can arrange a five-minute horse-drawn sleigh ride to Brewster Cowboy's Barbecue and Dance Barn for an authentic Western-themed dinner and entertainment.
The Chateau is currently undergoing guest room renovations, with plans to wrap by the end of the year. It's also in the process of adding a state-of-the-art thermal wellness center to the property, located on the previous site of the outdoor pool. That aims to be open in spring 2025.
Speaking of renovations: If you're eyeing a Banff program for the future, keep The Rimrock Resort Hotel in mind. Now under the operation of Accor (which owns the Fairmont brand), The Rimrock will soon undergo a top-to-bottom renovation. It plans to complete it—under a to-be-determined Accor brand banner—sometime in 2026.
What to Do Outside
In talking with Canadian event and DMO profs from across the country during Incentive Winter, it's apparent that in promoting their programs and destinations in Canada, it's all about engaging with nature. And that's no different in Banff and Lake Louise.
Undoubtedly, one of the area's main draws (if not the main draw) is its natural beauty. So of course a meeting program here should include outdoor activities—and in the winter, the options really are unique.
Sunshine Village Ski Resort is home to Banff's ski runs across three mountains, while Lake Louise Ski Resort boasts 4,200 acres of skiable terrain. For something less strenuous, groups can convene at Banff Trail Riders in the winter for horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice-sculpting lessons, and hot beverages by a campfire.
Excursions here also include guided ice walk tours, snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing (a must around or on frozen Lake Louise), dog-sledding with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours, and fat biking with Bikescape.
How to Honor Indigenous Culture
When bringing groups to Banff and Lake Louise, it's important to acknowledge that for thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have lived in the foothills and forests of the Rocky Mountains. The area that is now Banff National Park was known as a sacred place, with the natural hot springs used for healing.
There are many ways planners can incorporate Indigenous culture into their programs here. For example, during Incentive Winter, Hal Eagletail gave a blessing at the opening reception. He is known as a Knowledge Keeper of the Northern Dene Tsuut'ina Nation.
Hands-on activities are another way to teach groups more about the heritage and history of the land. At Incentive Winter, Matricia Bauer from Warrior Women led an Indigenous tea-making experience. With Warrior Women, Bauer is part of a collective of Indigenous women who drum, sing, and seek to educate others about the beauty of their culture. They're based in Jasper, Alberta. Bauer also runs Wisakipakos Indigenous Bitters, an herbology business that makes small bottles of culinary extracts infused with botanicals that are used to flavor mocktails, cocktails, teas, and food—these bitters made for a perfect gift for Incentive Winter attendees.
Watch Bauer's recent TED talk here.
How to Keep It Sustainable
If nature is the top promotional point in bringing a group to Canada, sustainability isn't far behind. This was one of the main focuses of Incentive Winter. The program did a noteworthy job of showcasing how incentive programs and retreats can incorporate sustainable event elements. Examples included carpooled airport transfers, prioritizing vendors that implement sustainable practices (including the hotels part of the program), serving menus with local (and sometimes vegetarian) ingredients, and tracking and offsetting emissions.
"Sustainability is such a huge pillar for Destination Canada," Attersall says, "and we need to lead by example."
One of Destination Canada's vendors was Parléview, which helped manage the program and provided sustainable details such as reclaimed wooden name badges (goodbye, plastic). Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise also has a long list of ways it gives back to its surrounding environment, including a dedicated on-site water treatment plant, phasing out single-use plastic items, and a dedicated sustainability committee on staff. Incentive Winter also used TRACE software to track the event’s carbon footprint and set benchmarks for future events.