New highs for Toronto’s tourism sector; Americans staying longer and spending more in an increasingly sophisticated city

That more Americans are visiting Toronto is good news. The fact they’re staying longer and spending more is even better.

Tourism Toronto released its 2015 visitation numbers today, showing a five per cent rise in overnight visits and a 10 per cent hike in U.S. numbers.

St. Lawrence Market
Overall, Toronto attracted 14.03 million overnight visits last year, the first time they’ve gone over the 14 million mark. The city’s previous best was in 2014, with 13,365,800 overnight visits. Montreal earlier this month announced they attracted 9.6 million visitors last year, while Vancouver said they brought in 9.4 million folks.

Numbers from the U.S., the city’s biggest market, were up 10 per cent in Toronto, with 2.48 million overnight visits. Americans in Toronto spent $1.32 billion in hotels, restaurants, bars, baseball games, museums and other attractions.

“That 10 per cent growth from the U.S. is very exciting for us,” said Tourism Toronto executive vice president Andrew Weir. “It’s the fifth consecutive year of U.S. growth, which tells us that currency isn’t the major factor.”
It was only a few years ago that the Canadian dollar was trading ABOVE the U.S. greenback. But even then the city’s U.S. visits were climbing, Weir said.
Toronto in the past attracted a lot of Americans coming up for the day. But now they’re staying longer and spending more.

I asked Weir what his company is doing differently.

“That’s a great question,” he said. “In the U.S. we’re marketing more aggressively and this past summer we targeted a much larger footprint than we had in the past. We included places like Detroit and Cleveland that we hadn’t in the past. We saw the growing economic fortunes in those cities and we also had a great summer in Toronto, with so much to talk about and so much to sell. The dollar was a benefit last year,” too.

It’s not just driving trips that are increasing. Weir said Toronto and New York had 35 flights back and forth per day in 2007. These days, it’s more than 70 and could be as high as 75.

“Airlines don’t do that unless there’s demand,” he said. “So the fact is we’re seeing growing demand for Toronto as a destination.

“People, particularly American travelers, are making fewer surgical trips and coming more to experience Toronto. Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to Toronto to see this show’ or ‘I’m going to see this baseball game,’ the discussion is more simply that ‘I’m going to go to Toronto for a couple days. I know there’s a lot I can do. When you travel for just one thing you might do that thing, have dinner and go home. But it’s much more productive when people come to experience the city; to shop and experience neighbourhoods and go for a walk and see some live theatre and see the game. There’s a much deeper level of consumption, and that’s a big part of the shift.”

King Street
“Food is part of it, too. Our diversity is well-known and that’s reflected in the food. People know when they’re here they’re going to eat well.”

“Every day there are 110,000 visitors in our destination – 38,000 of them staying in a hotel,” said Tourism Toronto President and CEO Johanne Belanger. “On average there are 6,800 American travellers and a further 4,800 visitors from other countries in Toronto every single day, and that speaks to the growing appeal of Toronto on a global scale. It also speaks to the hard work our team and our partners do selling and marketing Toronto in key world markets and the results those efforts are producing.”

China was once again Toronto’s second-biggest tourism source last year, trailing only the U.S. There were 260,400 visitors from China in 2015 a 13 per cent increase over the previous year. UK visits were up 10 per cent to 237,800, while visits from India were up 13 per cent to 106,700. That number could increase with the new Air Canada direct service between Toronto and Delhi.

Weir said Toronto’s tourism has benefitted from the Air Canada Toronto stopover, in which Americans flying to Europe or Asia from American cities can stay in Toronto for up to a week with no extra charge before heading to their final destination. It’s a strategy that works well for not only the city but for Air Canada and for Toronto Pearson, which is trying to increase its status as a global airline hub.

Sports also has been a big factor of late. The city had a flood of visitors from places like Mexico and Brazil for the 2015 Pan Am Games. The NBA All-Star Game is in Toronto this weekend, the first time it will be played outside the U.S. The World Cup of Hockey will be in Toronto this fall, and the Grey Cup is in the city in November.

“And that’s before we even talk about potential playoff games for the Blue Jays and Raptors,” Weir said.

Hotels in the Toronto region sold a record 9,647,500 room nights in 2015, an increase of 2.6 per cent. Over the past three years, increased tourism to Toronto has added 676,000 more annual hotel room nights.

toronto-blue-jays-jose-bautista-bat-flipThere are more than 315,000 people employed in tourism and hospitality in the Toronto region, illustrating the significance of the sector to the broader economy and community, Tourism Toronto officials said in a press release.

“In addition to hotel stays, visitors spend money on meals, attractions, ticketed events like theatre, live music and sports, nightlife, taxis and shopping. Our meeting and events industry also generates widespread economic activity in businesses from convention centres and hotels to offsite venues, transportation companies, audio-visual and staging companies and many others who benefit every time Toronto hosts a meeting, conference or event,” said Ms. Bélanger.

Queen West
Last year Toronto hosted 725 meetings and events that brought 356,600 delegates to the region and generated spending in Toronto of $417 million. At the same time, Tourism Toronto and its partners booked 751 new meetings and events for future years that will bring 351,900 delegates and $376 million in direct spending to the region.

Here’s to hoping that the great numbers will persuade all levels of government to give tourism boards a helping hand to promote the product, not only in the U.S. but around the world.

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