Hamilton drew 4.5M tourists in 2018, and a record number of hotel stays

Hamilton drew the highest number of tourists in recent memory last year, with 4.5 million visitors bringing $360 million in spending. But the city's celebrated boom in general is slowing.

Despite the robust visitor numbers, Hamilton's celebrated boom is slowing

Lindsay Ell performs at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Hamilton in September. The awards were one of the events that helped draw $4.5 million tourists to Hamilton in 2018. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Hamilton drew the highest number of tourists in recent memory last year, with 4.5 million visitors bringing $360 million in spending. And more people than ever stayed in local hotels.

Events such as the Canadian Country Music Awards and the Canusa Games boosted the number of people visiting Steeltown, says Jason Thorne, the city's head of planning and economic development.

That also led to more than 22,000 nights worth of hotel stays, Thorne said, which is "more than double where we were just two years ago."

Museum admissions increased to their highest level in at least four years. The city also received more than 800 film permits, up from just over 500 in 2017.

(City of Hamilton)

(City of Hamilton)

Thorne delivered the news at a city council budget meeting Wednesday, when he laid out his 2019 budget ask. The draft planning and economic development budget overall is $30,185,000, or a 2.7 per cent increase over 2018.

The draft tourism and events budget of $8,429,870 is an increase of 2.6 per cent over the year before. The department has a staff complement of 72.29.

Thorne said Hamilton's quest to host more events has paid off. Here are some highlights:

  • The 2018 Watchtower convention: more than 10,000 delegates.
  • Around the Bay road race: 15,000 attendees.
  • Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference: 1,300 delegates.
  • Canadian Country Music Awards: 750 delegates, more than 1,000 fans. 
  • U-Sports Men's Volleyball national championships: 600 attendees.
  • Canusa Games: 1,000 participants.
  • Quidditch Canada: 160 attendees.

New hotels in Hamilton's downtown core were part of the draw. Historically, Hamilton hasn't had enough hotel rooms to accommodate big events, Thorne said. 

There are three more hotel projects in the works, he said, which is the equivalent of about 400 rooms. One is on Upper James, one at King and Queen in the downtown core and one at McMaster Innovation Park in the west end.

Construction value decreased in Hamilton in 2018 compared to the boom of the previous year. (City of Hamilton)

The tourism increase is at odds with other predictions around Hamilton's economy. Scotiabank economist Brett House told councillors in December that it will soften over the next three years as part of a nationwide economic slowdown. 

Already, building permits and development applications have decreased, Thorne said. The real estate market is softening. The value of construction decreased last year too — $1,264,757,129 in 2018 compared to $1,364,145,418 in 2017. The number of new applications to build subdivisions also decreased by about a third.

Thorne said the city is trying to speed up turnaround times and reduce red tape for businesses applying for licences, and people applying for building permits. 

The city's job growth efforts in 2019 will centre on the airport employment growth district — some 1,204 hectares of land around the John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. 

The 2018 Quidditch Canada national championship drew 160 attendees last year. (Quidditch Canada )

About 607 hectares (1,500 acres) have already been sold, Thorne said, and 700 new jobs will come to the area in the next few months. Right now, the city is working on expanding its services to that land.

Councillors seemed pleased by the tourism numbers. But Lloyd Ferguson, Ancaster councillor, bristled at Thorne's budget ask.

The planning and economic development department has robust reserves, he said, but is still asking for an increase greater than the rate of inflation.

"I'm going to tuck that away as we go farther in the budget process," he said. "I'm not sure that's reasonable."

Council is scheduled to approve the 2019 operating budget in late March.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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