By Rosanna Caira
TORONTO ―Twenty months after the pandemic surfaced, Destination Toronto held its first Business Outlook Forum on November 18 at Toronto’s Hilton Hotel. The session offered an opportunity to share key insights and observations about the current business environment while also outlining key strategies for the coming months.
The new event, organized by Destination Toronto, which was described by Andrew Weir, executive vice-president, Destination Toronto, as “a two-day conference compressed into 80 minutes,” was organized in two parts with Part One setting the context and Part Two, looking ahead.
In welcoming attendees to the session, which was held both live and virtually, Scott Beck, president and CEO of Destination Canada, said “It’s been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to meet, and I’m thrilled to be here today. It’s been a hard two years, and it’s affected every single person in the room. I’ve been inspired by the resiliency and innovation our industry has shown since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 and also by the spirt of collaboration ― sharing everything we’re learning.”
Beck went on to say “We’re very bullish on tourism and the return of leisure and business travel. The pace of the recovery is hard to predict, so we need to be ready to adapt as things evolve but we believe there will be recovery ― that the desire to travel is strong… We believe all the things that made Toronto such an incredible destination before the pandemic are still very much true and still much alive.”
Kicking off Part One of the session, Marcy Burchfield of the Toronto Region Board of Trade showed that employment, mobility and visitor spending have returned very unevenly to different areas within the Toronto region, with the Financial District downtown lagging well behind other zones in all categories.
Citing statistics from the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s new Recovery Tracker, Burchfield pointed out that in September 2021, 18 months after COVID-19 was first declared a global pandemic, the number of employed Canadians returned to pre-pandemic levels. After declining for five-consecutive months, the national unemployment rate fell to 6.7 per cent in October ― one percentage point shy of the rate prior to the pandemic (5.7 per cent in February 2020). As of July 2021, the number of total active businesses in Canada was close to one-per-cent higher than what it was prior to the pandemic.
Next up, Heather Neale, Destination Toronto’s managing director of Business Events Sales, reported that of the 46 city-wide meetings (accounting for 186,000 attendees) that were scheduled for Toronto in 2021 and had to be cancelled, the DT sales team has successfully re-booked over half the meetings and fully two-thirds of those delegates (124,000) for future years. Of the 26 re-booked meetings, 13 will be hosted in Toronto in 2022.
Destination Toronto’s Business Intelligence analysts, Nemanja Davidovic and Anna Yu, then looked at several of the key drivers of the Readiness Index, including a look at consumers’ evolving levels of comfort with key travel activities, finding that while a strong majority of Canadians are comfortable with indoor shopping and dining, other activities such as flying and attending live events still lag behind at comfort levels below 50 per cent.
In Part Two, leaders from Destination Toronto’s Global Marketing team shared plans to continue to leverage the “Never-Have-I-Ever” campaign well into 2022. At the heart of this campaign strategy is the opportunity for individual businesses to connect directly to the campaigns through social channels.
In a candid discussion, Tara Gordon, Destination Toronto’s vice-president of Sales and Service, Laura Purdy, GM of Enercare Centre and Beanfield Centre at Exhibition Place and David Chisholm, vice-president of Sales at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre shared that key customer segments, including Canadian corporate meetings, are aggressively booking future meetings currently, while some segments, such as U.S.-based associations, are still showing hesitancy as they grapple with their own revenue losses over the past two years.