TIFF returned 'with a vengeance,' but expert says hospitality industry not 'healthy yet'
Toronto International Film Festival wrapped on Sunday, giving a boost to downtown businesses
The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped on Sunday after returning in person in full force, giving a boost to the downtown, but one expert says the city's hospitality industry is still far from seeing pre-pandemic levels of business.
Tourism in Toronto has not yet fully recovered from COVID-19, even with help from TIFF, according to Wayne Smith, interim director of the Ted Rogers school of hospitality and tourism management at Toronto Metropolitan University.
"It is starting to come back. I won't say it's healthy yet, but it's getting healthier," he said on Monday. "The recovery is coming."
Large scale events, such as TIFF, which bring celebrities and glamour to the city, provide an influx of business to hotels, restaurants and bars in the short term, but business travel will determine how the hospitality industry fares in the long term and the industry still needs to work out employment problems, Smith said.
"The reality is that we're starting to get people coming back but we don't have enough staff to service them," he said.
Monday-through-Friday business travel, he said, remains the bread and butter of Toronto's hospitality industry, he said. What remains to be seen, however, is if businesses are doing well enough to want to engage in travel again, he added.
Business conventions will drive the health of the tourism industry in Toronto, he said.
Smith noted, however, the city just enjoyed TIFF, a Toronto Blue Jays game and the Terry Fox Run all in one weekend, and it was exciting to be downtown.
That weekend followed a Sept. 13 announcement by the Michelin Guide of its first Canadian edition, with 74 restaurants making the inaugural Toronto selection, including one two-star restaurant, 12 one-star restaurants, 17 Bib Gourmand restaurants, and 44 recommended restaurants.
Toronto enjoyed "a lot of really great events" in the last two days, he said.
"When you add them on top of each another, it creates a lot of demand within the city. And you add in the excitement from the Michelin announcement last week, put that all together, you probably had a pretty good weekend," he said.
No data is yet available on the economic benefits of this year's TIFF, which ran for 10 days.
Restaurateur Charles Khabouth, who runs several eateries and clubs in Toronto, as well as the Bisha Hotel, said it was the best TIFF ever for his businesses. He called it a "return with a vengeance."
"It was lively, it was a lot of excitement, a huge amount of celebrities came back to town, a lot of parties, a lot of dinners, a lot of before and after shows. Really, it was the best ever. It was a great comeback for us and for the city," Khabouth said.
"There was no holding back from the studios, from the film companies, from the celebrities, actors and producers. They were out in full force everywhere," he said.
In a Aug. 10, 2022 news release, the federal government said TIFF brings more than 700,000 visitors to Toronto and accounts for more than $114 million in economic activity in the region.
"It also serves as a networking event for the Canadian film industry and a showcase for up and coming homegrown talent," the government said in the release.
"Due to the pandemic, the event transitioned to mostly digital screenings in 2020 and 2021, which resulted in lost revenue for the festival and local tourism sector."
The government invested $10 million to help TIFF return in person this year. The non-repayable contribution was made through the government's major events and festivals support initiative, which supports Canadian festivals and events that have been hit hard by COVID-19.
With files from Ali Chiasson and Muriel Draaisma