Toronto Tourism aims to reach higher


Walk on the outside of the CN Tower or sit on a bench on Toronto Island watching it? Easy choice if you ask me. (Julia Pelish copyrighted photo)

Are you ready to go on the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower? Tickets go on sale this week to those members of the public who want to take a few death-defying steps on the outside of the tower, 116 storeys and nearly 1,200 feet up. It’s the newest attraction to the city and one that’s already creating buzz around the world. The hope is EdgeWalk will join Toronto’s other great attractions and characteristics to keep visitors coming in record numbers. In 2010, the city attracted 10 million overnight visitors who brought in $4.5 billion in revenue.

As Toronto’s tourism industry boldly proclaimed its intentions of “Reaching Higher” on Tuesday it also soberly acknowledged the strong headwinds it faces in maintaining the tremendous momentum it has established in the past few years.

A stronger Canadian dollar, higher gas prices and the moribund U.S. economy have continued the decline of American visitors to the city. Tourism Toronto president and CEO David Whitaker said the numbers so far in 2011 “have been relatively flat, but we’re hanging in there with our international visitors through the first four months.”

Whitaker was speaking at Tourism Toronto’s annual general meeting at the Air Canada Centre, an event attended by members of the hotel, food, hospitality and other related industries. He and other members of the organization that advocates for the city around the globe insisted that the way forward is to continue to build on the international clientele. Overseas visitors to Ontario are up 2.4 per cent from this time last year, according to data Whitaker presented. The vast majority of those visitors land in Toronto. That increase is impressive when you consider that tourism to Canada as a whole is down 11.3 per cent from this time in 2010. (The year after the Olympics will do that to you.)

The emphasis for this year will be to get more people into Toronto over the holidays, Tourism Toronto pointed out. “Our hotel occupancy rate in December drops to 49 per cent,” Whitaker said as he underscored an area that needs improvement. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is Tourism Toronto’s alliance with their counterparts across the province. With the success that Toronto has had in attracting visitors — it moved up to No. 6 in the U.S. and Canada in hotel occupancy rates in 2010 — the rest of Ontario is hoping to learn from its expertise and with its focus on the international market the agency is happy to spread its knowledge.

“Toronto’s position as a gateway to Ontario is vitally important to us,” said Andrew Weir, Tourism Toronto’s vice-president of communications. “You can’t expect someone to get on a plane for 20 hours and just spend all their time in Toronto.”

Niagara, other markets in the GTA, Stratford and Prince Edward County are obvious areas that visitors would be happy to explore, and so would the Muskokas, the Bruce Trail, Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay. We’ve got a great city (TTC aside) and a terrific province, so good for the tourism biz for bringing the world here and good for you for impressing people so much they want to return.


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