TORONTO — Hotels and tourism naturally go together, so it was fitting that the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA) and Tourism Toronto held their annual AGMs earlier this week in one of the city’s most iconic buildings — the Air Canada Centre.
Speaking to a room full of hoteliers, Robert Houssez, GM of the Delta Meadowvale and incoming chair of the GTHA, welcomed members, saying, “In 2010, we had to work hard to pull out of a global recession. Active selling continued, but in July 2010 the HST was implemented, which eliminated the DMF [Destination Marketing Fund].” The move impacts hotels as marketing efforts at potential visitors are driven by that fund. Luckily, through the efforts of the Ministry of Tourism, the association secured funding of $130 million to the end of December 2012. “We have one full year of funding assured by Ontario,” said Houssez, thanking the Ministry’s efforts. “Global competition for tourism is fierce.” Still, the benefits that tourists bring to the table are vast. “Last year, the industry contributed $1.065 billion to taxes, and 224,000 people were gainfully employed in Toronto. A total of 10-million overnight visitors spent $4.5 billion in the GTHA.”
With the provincial election set for Ontario, Houssez said there are myriad changes on the horizon for the hotel industry, including the future of the DMF. Other changes include updates to the Liquor Licensing Act, which the hotel industry was consulted on and the extension of the Green Key program to its membership. The group also created a carbon calculator to help hotels become more eco friendly. The association is also working with the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association to create a template on accessibility for guests, driven by the new accessibility law that will come into effect in January 2012. “It’s been a tremendous year for all members,” said Houssez, pointing to other association-led initiatives such as a speaker series.
Moving to the Tourism Toronto portion of the agenda, the location shifted from one of the bar areas of the ACC to the actual arena where hoteliers joined Toronto Tourism delegates to listen to David Whitaker, president and CEO, present highlights of the past year.
Whitaker stressed that in 2010, April, June and July were record months in Toronto. In fact, the city finished sixth among North American destinations in terms of occupancy, attracting 1.3-million visitors in 2010, representing an 11-per-cent increase. From a taxation point of view, $11.5 million was generated in taxes. Whitaker stressed it’s a transitional time for the city. “We’re growing, and we’re not resting on our laurels. Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in North America with great opportunities and challenges because it is so diverse — whether we’re talking meetings and conventions, the airport area or the leisure and travel market. We have to have strategies deployed in all those areas. We’ve had a pretty strong bounce back, but we have higher expectations.” The city has experienced 63.5-per-cent occupancy through to March 2011, but rate is still not back. International arrivals to Canada are in an alarming situation. We’re anxious about this summer — but we’re not going to stop at being sixth on the list of Top 10 North American cities.”
Among the new initiatives planned for the association is an October/November marketing campaign aimed at increasing the number of visitors to Toronto during the Christmas shopping season. “Though we reached 63.5-per-cent occupancy last year, we only received 49-per-cent occupancy in December,” said Roseanne Longo, International Sales. “We want to animate the Christmas season.” The group is also working hard to increase sales in international markets such as China, Korea and India.
Ultimately, Tourism Toronto’s success lies in the power of telling stories. “Technology may be changing everything but the power of the story is still there,” said Andrew Weir, vice-president of Communications, pointing to the value of stories generated in media around the world. “We hosted 644 media during 2010 and produced $37-million worth of value in stories.”