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Toronto lost $8.35B in tourist activity due to 1st year of COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'Toronto tourism industry slammed with $8.35B in losses in 12 months' Toronto tourism industry slammed with $8.35B in losses in 12 months
WATCH ABOVE: Destination Toronto says the city has lost billions in revenue from the loss of the tourism industry during the pandemic. While some business operators are attempting to hang on by reinventing their operations, past experiences say it will likely take years for the industry to recover. Matthew Bingley reports. – Mar 4, 2021

According to an analysis done by Destination Toronto, the COVID-19 pandemic has cost the city’s economy $8.35 billion due to a drop in tourism and hospitality spending.

Some of the hardest hit sectors include:

  • retail: $1.68 billion
  • food and beverage: $1.33 billion
  • accommodations: $1.21 billion
  • finance: $1.03 billion
  • transportation: $0.81 billion
  • attractions and entertainment: $0.71 billion
  • other: $1.59 billion

Also lost from reduced tourism was $1.44 billion in unrealized tax revenue for the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Read more: Coronavirus: Toronto’s tourism industry likely to lose billions in revenue, officials say

Destination Toronto said the analysis comes from the “visitor economy study” that was released in late 2019 produced by Tourism Economics (in partnership with the Toronto Region Board of Trade). The study found that 27.5 million visitors to Toronto generated an economic impact of $10.3 billion and supported 70,000 jobs in the related industries.

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Scott Beck, president and CEO of Destination Toronto, said one of the sectors devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic was the meetings and events industry. Beck said Destination Toronto tracked 463 conferences and events that were either cancelled or postponed since the start of the pandemic costing $833 million in losses in that sector alone.

Beck said 380,000 attendees did not come to Toronto in the last year and “as a result, they didn’t stay in hotels or visit attractions, didn’t spend money in our retail shops, or eat in our restaurants.”

“Prior to the pandemic, Toronto had been riding a wave of momentum and experienced annual growth in visitor spending for over a decade. The foundation of our past success, rooted in the quality of our city’s experience, gives us confidence in the inevitable recovery of our industry,” Beck said.

Read more: Canadian tourism sector needs help through ‘very, very dire’ straits: industry heads

Destination Toronto said when the Greater Toronto Area region is factored into the analysis, the economic losses grow from $8.35 billion to more than $14 billion.

Andrew Weir, executive vice president for Destination Toronto, told Global News that the hospitality and tourism industry was one of the first industries hit hard at the start of the pandemic and “seems to be on track to be the last industries to recover because travel will take so long to fully return.”

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Weir said because Toronto is such a multi-cultural city and interconnected with the world that international travel is key to the city’s tourism.

He also spoke about some businesses such as the Ripley’s Aquarium and The Toronto Zoo who have to maintain operations such as feeding and taking care of the animals and are unable to just lock their doors for a few months.

“We feel very strongly that tourism will return,” Weir said. “The path from where we sit today to that point of a fully thriving visitor economy is a long and precarious one.”

“You just can’t experience cities this way. We can’t do it over Zoom calls,” Weir continued. “There is something about first person meetings, and being in a live theatre or music venue or being at the restaurant and walking around a neighbourhood that you’ve never experienced before that just can’t be replaced online.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Toronto officials recommend city move into grey-lockdown level next week

“March 13 was the date where we did our last performance in 2020, so that’s $240 million that has not come into the Toronto economy,” John Karastamatis, director of communications for Mirvish Productions, said.

The last time Mirvish experienced anything like this shortfall was during SARS in 2003, Karastamatis said.

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“Before SARS our audience consisted of 50 per cent form the United States. After SARS, the number of people coming from the United States was in the single digits. We changed our focus and we made people from Ontario tourists. … We adjusted and we did just as well,” he continued. “And I suspect what this pandemic will mean is that we have to become our own tourists in the short term until people are comfortable enough to travel farther.”

He said they are hopeful they can start performances again in the fall.

Amber Moyle from Pride Toronto told Global News they have lost almost $3 million in the past year. She said this year, Pride Toronto will be focusing on a virtual festival, with the production quality elevated. It will also be launching the first-ever virtual street fair on its website through the month of June.

“This year we want to do more because we know our community needs us to continue to keep pushing.”

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Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city is working non-stop to get through the pandemic to reopen safely as it is still under a stay-at-home shutdown.

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“Prior to the pandemic, Toronto was welcoming millions of people from the around the world who were eager to see and experience our city,” Tory said. “One of the hardest hit areas during the pandemic has been the hospitality and tourism sector but I am absolutely confident that this sector will come back strong with more jobs than ever before.”

“I am determined to work with Destination Toronto and businesses across the city to attract visitors and ensure all the success we had before COVID-19 continues when these tough times are over,” Tory said.

Destination Toronto, formerly known as Tourism Toronto, markets and promotes the city to global travellers, visitors, businesses and for meeting and event spaces. It works in partnership with the City of Toronto, the Greater Toronto Hotel Association and Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries.

⁠— With files from Matthew Bingley. 

Visitor economy impact by sector after one year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto. Destination Toronto

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