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More foreign visitors discovering Toronto says tourism group

What would entice a Berliner, Londoner, New Yorker or Shanghai resident to come to Toronto? That has been the challenge facing Tourism Toronto, and it seems they must be onto something. In 2011, 9.8 million people visited Toronto and stayed overnight—overnighters are the ones that matter, the “high-value” tourists, because they tend to stay in hotels. But in 2013, the number had grown to 13.69 million, the greatest number ever. Of these, 1.42 million came from outside Canada and the United States. That’s an increase of almost 40 per cent in two years. How did they do it?

The statement from Tourism Toronto says that the increase in visitors is the result of “momentum” and “continued repositioning of our product.” The VP of communications at Tourism Toronto, Andrew Weir, told the Toronto Star that that means selling the city and its attractions along with other “world famous” attractions that are nearby, like Niagara Falls, the Stratford Festival and Muskoka. Even Gravenhurst, the hometown of Dr. Norman Bethune, hero of the Chinese revolution that eventually brought Mao Zedong to power in 1949 (Bethune died in 1939) is on the see-list of sites for many Chinese visitors.

It is still mainly the British who come here from overseas (201,000 in 2013) but the Chinese are leading the new growth, with 58 per cent more Chinese visitors last year (181,000) than in 2010.

The vast majority of visitors to Toronto are other Canadians. Toronto remains the number one non-foreign destination for Canadians; 10.09 million Canadian overnighters came here in 2013. Tourism Toronto says that 25 million Canadians made same-day visits to the city. (They don’t say how they know this, but it must include daily commuters and the like, which is not exactly tourism.)

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The conventions and events business is a major part of tourism. Tourism Toronto says it booked 745 future meetings and conventions in 2013. They will bring 406,000 attendees to the region.

The second biggest group of visitors is Americans, and their numbers are up too. In all, 2.18 million Americans arrived here and stayed overnight. Their numbers had fallen sharply in previous years, especially following 9/11 and the new passport requirements.

Is Toronto in the big leagues for international tourism? Not yet. Los Angeles, with an “expected” 4.84 million foreign visitors in 2014, is ranked at #20 on a Business Insider list of  20 New Most Popular Cities for Tourists. That is more than three times the number of foreigners who came to Toronto last year. At the top of the list is Bangkok, expecting to welcome an amazing 15.98 million tourists this year.

Tourism growing around the world

The growth in Toronto tourism is consistent with a worldwide trend. The United Nations World Tourism Organization reported a 5 per cent increase in “international tourist arrivals” in 2013, reaching 1.08 billion arrivals in all. That’s 52 million more tourist visits than in the previous year, with most of them going to Europe. Canada ranks a relatively distant third place in the North American tourist market, chalking up 16.3 million international visitors in 2012 compared to 67 million to the US and 23.4 million to Mexico. Still, Canada was placed in sixteenth place out of the top twenty countries for tourism in 2012. France has consistently topped the list for decades, routinely attracting more visitors than it has population. In 2012, 83 million tourists went to France.

Tourism is, of course, hugely important to the world economy. Visitors to Toronto spent $6.54 billion on accommodations, attractions, restaurants, taxis, shopping and entertainment last year. The industry employs 315,000 people in the Toronto area.

What does Tourism Toronto consider “must see” attractions in this city? The CN Tower and EdgeWalk are at the top of their list. The Toronto Islands, St. Lawrence Market, Hockey Hall of Fame, Eaton Centre, Chinatown, Toronto Zoo, Ripley’s Aquarium, Casa Loma, Canada’s Wonderland and the Royal Ontario Museum are a few of the others. For some reason, the Art Gallery of Ontario is not on their list.

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