Speakers at the 2018 Tourism Town-Hall series event in Toronto.

TORONTO — Ontario tourism-industry professionals gathered at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto last week to take part in the Toronto installment of the 2018 Tourism Town-Hall series. The event — a partnership between the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), Destination Canada (DC), Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) and Tourism Toronto — was designed as an opportunity to engage small and medium-sized business owner-operators to better understand efforts being made on national tourism issues.

Representatives from each of the presenting organizations were on hand to answer questions and provide insight on hot topics, such as labour and cannabis legalization. Panellists included Johanne Belanger, president & CEO, Tourism Toronto; Vince Accardi, director, Policy and Stakeholder Relations, TIAC; Beth Potter, president & CEO, TIAO; Maureen Riley, executive director, Industry Partnerships, DC; and Casey Vanden Heuvel, director, Business Development & Partnerships, ITAC.

As panel moderator, Andrew Weir, EVP & CMO, Tourism Toronto, noted, the Toronto installment of the series was the largest on its national tour, with approximately 350 attendees.

Belanger kicked off the introduction-and-update portion of the event, noting the importance of the town-hall series in ensuring the industry’s voice is heard during this time of growth. “Right now, we have an opportunity in front of us. Our country and this region are having a moment on the world stage,” said Belanger. “Conversations like today are very important; conversations that can spark an idea and conversations that can keep us innovating to keep Toronto’s tourism industry thriving.”

Before the panel got underway, Riley provided attendees with an update on the latest initiatives DC is focusing on, including North Star 22 — the organization’s goal of reaching 25-million international visitors spending $25 billion in by the year 2022. She also noted that marketing strategies will focus on transformational travel and continue to explore non-traditional formats, such as an upcoming series set to launch on Amazon Prime this fall.

“Through this we’ll have access to huge audiences. We’re expecting 600-million impressions, but what you need to understand is that the Amazon target market aligns very, very closely to our own target market and it gives us access to more than 50-million potential viewers that will engage with our content and potentially consider Canada as a place to visit in the future,” Riley explained.

During the panel discussion and question period, panellists discussed the importance of conveying the value of the tourism industry and its viability as a career choice.

“As an industry, we’re stepping up and saying ‘what can we do to dispel the myth that tourism is a short-term job, it’s something that you do until you get a real job or until you graduate from school, that it’s seasonal, that it’s low paying?’” Potter said. “There are great jobs…and we need to get that message out there and we need to get it out there loud.”

Both Accardi and Potter also expressed their support for the new Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie, Mélanie Joly, noting her understanding of the tourism industry. “Our new minister is committed to positioning our sector, within the government, as a key economic driver and to delivering results on behalf of our members,” said Accardi. “TIAC and the minister will continue to push for immigration programs that meet the skills needs of our sector, competitive funding for Destination Canada, easier access, including visa processing and adequate resources to process those visitors when they’re here in our airports, plus the removal of taxes on tourism exports.”

With legalization just a month away, many questions were posed regarding cannabis regulation and best practices. The consensus among that panellist was that communication and clarity around policy are the top priorities, while the concept of cannabis tourism is being met with more of a ‘wait-and-see’ approach.

“There’s going to be an awful lot of communication that needs to happen,” noted Potter. “We’re taking the view that [we must] make sure we’re providing support to the tourism business owners right now and [conveying] the implications to you and your business…We’re addressing it in the workplace right now. Everybody wants to talk about cannabis tourism, but I don’t think we’re ready to talk about that yet…I think we will be able to learn a lot from other jurisdictions as we move forward.”

Amidst the challenges facing the industry, the Chinese market was identified as an important opportunity that the industry must be prepared to capitalize on, but we must be ready to cater to these travellers, the panel stressed. As Riley noted, China has become Canada’s largest inbound-tourism market after the U.S. and its fastest-growing market. “Their pace of growth in tourism is huge and we need to make sure that we get our fair share of that. We continue to see growth with added air access into Canada,” she explained. “And, we have even more visa-application centres that have opened up in China, making it easier for the Chinese to access our destination.”

“We have not begun tapping into China…There are more than a billion people there, there’s a few more that can come and visit Toronto,” added Belanger, who pointed to China as Toronto’s largest overseas tourist market.


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