Caribana attendance down

Attendance was down for this year's Caribana parade in Toronto

Rain, the lingering stigma of SARS and the Toronto Rocks concert were blamed for a drop in attendance at this year's Caribana parade.

Organizers had hoped a million people would line the route to kick off the weekend festivities. Instead, between 500,000 and 750,000 showed up.

Toronto hotels are feeling the impact of fewer tourism dollars.

"Saturday night, (bookings are) typically 100 per cent," said Holiday Inn general manager Marlin Keranen. "This year, we're at 89 per cent."

Many retailers said they haven't been seeing the same number of tourists as in previous years.

American families who would book week-long vacations around Caribana cancelled months ago out of fear of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

This weekend, there have been more short-term, spur-of-the-moment visitors.

"I talked to one of my friends from up here and she said, 'don't worry about it.' She said, 'you Americans you're all scared too much, come up here,'" said a New York City man.

Caribana, the largest Caribbean festival in North America, began just days after the Rolling Stones-fronted Toronto Rocks festival, held to show the city was SARS-free.

On Friday, Caribana organizers complained the huge benefit concert overshadowed the runup to their event.

They said the high-profile concert has drawn attention, and tourists, away from their cultural festival.

"We've been labouring for 36 years, putting money into the city's economy and it seems some people just don't care or they just don't get it," said the Caribbean Cultural Committee's Elsworth James.

"They got too much, we got so little and it's unfair." James added that apart from the apparent overlap, the Stones concert received $10 million worth of funding, a figure more than 10 times the amount of money Caribana receives.