TORONTO ― After a somewhat challenging year, the executives at Tourism Toronto are looking forward to blue skies ahead. It was a theme underlined at this week’s 88th annual general meeting, held at the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre. Fittingly, award-winning Canadian barbershop choir Northern Lights set the tone for the AGM by singing an a cappella rendition of “Blue Skies” to lead off two hours of statistics and bright hopes for the future.

Speaking to a crowd of 800 tourism stakeholders, Johanne Belanger, president of AVW Telav, and chair of the association, welcomed the attendees, before noting that the past 15 months since the association’s last AGM has been “a remarkably trying time.” But, despite the challenges, she added, “it’s also been a remarkably exciting time filled with opportunity.” During the past year, the association has made great headway in promoting Toronto as a destination, with the city landing on more top 10 lists than ever before, including being rated the number-2 most reputable city in the world.

Belanger recapped a few of those achievements before introducing David Whitaker, president and CEO of the association to walk attendees through some of the highlights of the past year and to introduce a strategic five-year plan for the association. “We moved our AGM from May to October,” to “help us project into the future, which is very important to us,” explained Whitaker.

After a sluggish few years, the association is on track for growth, said Whitaker, citing statistics that show more than 10-million overnight visitors travelled to Toronto in 2012, spending $3.6 billion (factoring in same-day visits, the total is $4.6 billion) and creating 315,000 jobs. The city sold nine-million room nights, attracting 1.4-million overnight visitors from overseas with the top five destinations cited as the U.K., China, India, Germany and Japan, accounting for a total of 583,000 visitors.

Interestingly, while U.S. visits have dropped in recent years, Toronto hosted 2.14-million overnight visitors from the U.S. in 2012, an increase of 96,000 Americans, representing 4.4-per-cent growth, the largest single increase in nine years. “Year to date — we are on pace to have another record year of overnight visitors from the U.S,” boasted Whitaker, and 2013 “will be the third-consecutive year that we’ve seen an increase — after over a decade of decline.” Interestingly, said Whitaker, how these American tourists are travelling is Toronto is another key trend with U.S. overnight visitors arriving by air, up by six per cent last year, while overnight visitors arriving by car is up by only three per cent.

Based on STR stats cited at the AGM, in 2012 Toronto was the 11th top hotel destination in the world with occupancy of 67.6 per cent.

Whitaker announced a slate of citywide conventions to be held in Toronto over the next couple of years, including the PMA Education Conference, slated for June 2014, which will attract 250 of the top meeting planners in the world. Interestingly, in 2012 there were only 10 city-wide conferences compared to a total of 51 city-wide conferences on the books for 2014. Among some of the most contentious future bookings is the one for the 2016 NBA All-Star game. “I keep hearing ‘why are you investing half a million dollars to stage the NBA all star game,’” said Michael Chan, Minister of Tourism & Sport, referring to the fallout of paying the NBA money to host the game. But the benefits of staging such a game is “music to my ears,” quipped the minister to applause from the crowd.

Meanwhile, Whitaker discussed the recent construction at Union Station, the opening of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and the new development at the South Core centre, which will see a new flagship for Delta Hotels.

The association is placing more attention on attracting tourists from other destinations and from across Canada to visit. “The goal for us is to get other provinces to visit Toronto,” said Whitaker. With the strength of the Canadian dollar, more Canadians are travelling outside the country. The CEO cited statistics that show 56-million trips were made by Canadian to the U.S. last year, 13 million more than in 2007. “The border states have been declining dramatically,” said Whitaker, and with the dollar now a dollar, “Canada is no longer viewed as a discount destination.”

“Our future success will come from people flying here, and we have to talk to them in their language,” stressed Whitaker. “We need to create an image and brand that will cut through the clutter,” he stated.

Capping off the event, Tourism Toronto presented its President’s Award to Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University. “We think of ourselves as a city builder with the logic that a great university goes well with a great city,” said Levy in accepting the award.


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