Toronto smashes visitor and visitor spending records, and here comes a Ritz Carlton cruise ship!

Talk about hogging the spotlight.
Toronto last year welcomed almost 44 million visitors, spending $8.8 billion – both record numbers.
All told, 43.7 million visitors were welcomed to the region last yearn. For the first time, overnight visits in Toronto, which Tourism Toronto folks like to call “Canada’s Downtown,” surpassed the 15 million mark (15.5 million), joined by 28.2 million same-day travellers. Visitors to Toronto spent $8.8 billion – the most economic activity ever generated by the region’s tourism industry. That figure represents $700 million in extra funds over 2016 levels for hotel rooms booked, attractions seen and restaurants experienced.
And all of those contribute to the city’s bottom line. And to Canada’s economy.

Another milestone was set in Toronto last year, with international visits surpassing 5 million for the first time. That’s important because international visitors come for longer periods of time than “quickie” visitors, and they tend to spend more. If you’re in the tourism biz, those are the customers you want.
At the same time, there was good news from below the border, too. Visits from the U.S. grew for its seventh consecutive year, with nearly 3 million American overnight visitors, spending $1.8 billion. An additional 2.1 million overnight visitors arrived from overseas markets led by China (319,000) and the U.K. (263,000). Overseas spending accounted for more than $2 billion for the first time, increasing the 2016 spend by $231 million.
Visits from Mexico saw an increase year-over-year. Starting in late 2016, travellers from Mexico no longer require a visa to visit Canada. As a result, visits from Mexico rose by 72 per cent in just one year.
Overall, visits to Toronto climbed 3.6 per cent last year. It’s good, although it’s also not unusual given the growth of tourism around the world. I’ve seen several cities with larger growth percentages than 3.6 (I believe Montreal was over five per cent, partly due to their 375th anniversary party), but it’s still a solid number.

The Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Tourism Toronto said US visits last year were up 4.8 per cent, while international (not including the US) rose 6.9 per cent. Overnight domestic visits were up 3.2 per cent, as were visits by same-day travellers.
“More and more, world travellers are seeing Toronto as an exciting urban destination, and we’re seeing that with both a record number of visitors and visitor spending,” said Johanne Bélanger, President and CEO of Tourism Toronto. “The campaign we launched last year is tapping into that sense of excitement and confidence. Videos from that campaign – ‘The Views are Different Here’ – have now been seen nearly 43 million times.”
Canadian travellers continue to visit Toronto more than any other Canadian city. Toronto welcomed 10.4 million overnight domestic visitors, spending $2.6 billion in 2017. Canadians also compose the majority of same-day visitors to the Toronto region.
Hotels in the Toronto region sold 10,113,281 room nights last year. Hotel occupancy rates in 2017 were 76.1 per cent.
Last year also saw major events come to the region with multi-sport events like the Invictus Games (with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, doncha know) and the North American Indigenous Games – building off of the success and infrastructure from the Pan Am & Parapan Am Games in 2015. As Canada’s hub for innovation, technology, finance and business, Toronto also saw businesses and organizations bring their conferences and events like ASAE and SIBOS to Canada’s Downtown.

Sugar Beach is a fun spot on the Toronto waterfront. Looks good on Instagram, too. PHOTO COURTESY TOURISM TORONTO

Last year, the region hosted 951 meetings and events that brought 400,000 delegates and generated spending of $634 million. At the same time, Tourism Toronto and its partners booked 934 new meetings and events for future years that included securing Amway China in 2020 and their 10,000 top salespeople, the largest travel delegation from China to ever visit Canada.
“Now that 2018 is here, we can look forward to the 24 city-wide conferences and events taking place throughout the Toronto region, the most Toronto has hosted in a single year,” said Ms. Bélanger. “Future growth indicators for the visitor economy remain strong, and that benefits Canada, Ontario, the greater Toronto region and the 329,000 people that work in tourism-related industries.”
Tourism Toronto does a very good job pushing the city on a global scale, as does Destination Canada for the country as a whole. But the federal government still doesn’t give enough credit to tourism, one of the most vital (and growing) areas of Canada’s economy.
With some notable exceptions, the tourism portfolio is usually handed off to junior ministers when it comes time for federal leaders to portion out Cabinet posts. The same goes in Ontario, where we’ve had a forgettable series of ministers occupy the tourism job over the years.
Maybe the Toronto numbers will help change that. But I can’t see it. If we’re going to improve tourism in this country, I think it’s largely going to be with the help of our big cities.
I read a report yesterday that said millennial travellers now are looking for city getaway vacations almost as much as they are beach holidays. Toronto is doing a good job appealing to those customers already. And it appears they’re our future.


I’ve said it before, but I think it’s brilliant that the folks at Ritz Carlton are getting into the cruise business. I mean, there aren’t many brands in the world that are more iconic than Ritz Carlton. All you have to do to impress someone is drop the line, “Oh, you want to reach me tonight? Here’s my number at the Ritz.” Right? So how smart is it that a brand with that kind of name recognition is branching out and using that well-earned reputation in another part of the travel business? Pretty smart, I’d say.

“In accordance with maritime tradition, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection has celebrated the milestone keel laying of its inaugural yacht at the Hijos De J. Barreras Shipyard in Vigo, Spain,” the company said in a press release. “Representing a unique first for a luxury hotel operator, the collection brings the brand’s legendary service to the seas with a bespoke yachting experience and today, drew one step closer to its anticipated launch in late 2019.
“We are delighted to commemorate this milestone as we embark on our journey to bring the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection to life,” said Lisa Holladay, global brand leader, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
“The keel laying marks the realisation of a longstanding dream for the Ritz-Carlton brand as we bring our guest experience and service ethos to the seas through these highly unique luxury vessels and one-of-a-kind onboard amenities and experiences.”
Like I said, I love the idea. Wonder how long it will be before other hotel groups try something similar…

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