Comstock: City hall ignores our greatest source of tourism

When we start entertaining the regional market, international tourism is bound to follow

By Mike Comstock – 

This is the time of year to think about house guests visiting you and Toronto this summer. Hopefully these are planned visits by old friends and family you love to see. Of all the city slogans kicked around, “The City of Neighbourhoods” is the best for me. Your visitors should see the city sites and certainly your neighbourhood, and a couple of others. Take the folks out, or send them to Habourfront and the Islands, stroll Yorkville, eat in one of the Chinatowns or Little India, Church-Wellesley Village, Little Italy, the Annex or Old Town and more. I know there will be a lot of us entertaining visitors because 80% of Toronto’s visitors are from the “VFR Market.” Those are the tourism business initials for Visiting Friends and Relatives. With 19 million annual visitors, the hotels simply can not put that many people up. The vast majority are VFR: 80%! This is a startling high percentage isn’t it?
I am going to give you some more statistics about tourism in Toronto, but first I am duty bound to remind you that 37.36512 % of all statistics are made up on the spot! My statistics are from 2005 and 2006 and different sources, and I promise not to misinform you on the basics. The second big number is that 65% of the visitors to Toronto come from the local region. That is defined by both the provincial Ministry of Tourism and the Hotel and Convention Association (known as Tourism Toronto) as people coming from inside the 100 kilometre radius of Downtown Toronto. The 100-kilometre swath of the region looks like this: Eastward along the Lake to about Coburg, then up to Peterborough, Fenelon Falls, northerly to Orilla, Collingwood almost, and Mount Forest, Kitchener- Waterloo to the west, Brantford and all of Hamilton and the to the south, the Niagara Peninsula and Buffalo, N. Y. Tourism is very beneficial in the economy, creating entry-level jobs in the hotels and restaurants and spending money at the neighbourhood festivals and shops.
In order to improve tourism in Toronto, advertising to this large regional market of visitors should be obvious. But we don’t see any. The biggest market is being missed. The spillover of such advertising back in to Toronto would have a positive affect on ourselves, showing us what a great city we have. And you know Toronto could use a cheerleader these days. No one exhibits a real strong image of joy of heart for this town. Our shopkeepers will tell you that many of the once-or-twice-a-year customers from the outlying suburbs and towns are just not coming in any more. They hear mostly negative news about Toronto. There are too few of these regional visitors staying in hotels and zero convention business, so the Hotel and Convention Association ignores the regional market. This summer the provincial Ministry of Tourism sent applications for summer festival grants to groups in the city, with the express direction against advertising within 80 kilometres of Toronto. Grants to develop local events are great and help some of the neighbourhoods. It seems illogical not to advertise to the regional market and the all of our visiting friends and relatives. It would be great to see Toronto and its varied and interesting neighbourhoods represented as the reason to visit the city. We are not just the city next to Niagara Falls, or next to Wine Country, nor are we the cottage, moose and Mounties. We are The City of Neighbourhoods.

Where is city hall on this? The “leadership” is reassuring us that after almost two years we will finally be hiring a general manager for economic development. Maybe he will help. Another place to look is the city’s tourism office. Just like the much needed, yet half-funded planning department, the Toronto tourism department has been reduced to a handful of people with few measly dollars. The Downtown core needs to have a positive public voice to counter the negative images in the media. “If it bleeds it leads” is the media’s mantra. Aggressive parking police, traffic chaos, shootings and people sleeping on the streets in the Financial District are current media fodder. We need to refresh the visitor’s memory on using taxis and TTC passes, etc., to party around the neighbourhoods and Downtown with ease. To shop, dine and tour several of our neighbourhoods, not just the CN Tower and the Zoo. We draw crowds with our vibrancy of life, the arts and culture we offer. We must concentrate on the regional market first. When we get that right, then the distant travelers will find a reason to visit. Find out what’s happening in town or send your VFR a link to: www.OldTownToronto1793. com.