City sets new visitor record in 2019, Tourism Toronto says

The Raptors, tech conferences and Toronto's attractions brought more visitors and money to the city in 2019 than ever before, according to Tourism Toronto. The agency says one area the city could see more growth is attracting new visitors in the winter.

Toronto hosted 28 million visitors, up from 27.5 million in 2018, tourism agency says

The CN Tower casts a shadow on Toronto skyscrapers. According to Tourism Toronto, the city's tourism industry has been on the upswing over the last 10 years. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

The Raptors, tech conferences and Toronto's growing number of attractions are a few of the things that contributed to a record number of visitors to the city in 2019, according to Tourism Toronto.

The city's marketing organization estimates 28 million people visited Toronto in 2019, spending a record $6.7 billion — $200 million more than in 2018.

Andrew Weir, executive vice president of destination development at Tourism Toronto, says these numbers show what visitors can bring to the city financially. 

"The results we've seen the past year and the decade of sustained growth shows the visitors that come to Toronto inject a significant amount of money into our economy," he said.

"That's money that didn't start in our economy and ends up in our economy, circulating through and contributing to over 70,000 jobs in the city."

Andrew Weir is the executive vice president of destination development at Tourism Toronto. (Submitted)

Weir explains part of the growth is because global tourism has been strong for the last few years, but he says there are specific factors that have Toronto outpacing other destinations, and tech is a big part of it.

He notes that conferences bring thousands of visitors to the city, which can result in those people wanting to bring their families back to visit.

"The reality is we have over 1,000 major meetings in the city. Over 100 of them involve 1,000 people or more. These are large meetings with people coming from across Canada," he said. 

"They're staying at hotels, getting around by taxis and shopping."

Not just a summer city

Tourism Toronto says attracting more people to the city in the winter months is an area they're trying to grow.

Over the last few years, Ontario Place has initiated a number of attractions to do just that. In 2017, it launched The Winter Lights Festival, skating in the park and events at the Cinesphere — an IMAX theatre.

In 2018, Ontario Place partnered with the Aurora Winter Festival.

The Winter Light Exhibition is on at Ontario Place until March 29 on the West Island. (Submitted)

General manager Nancy Rowland says this year the focus has been promoting their winter programming through February and March.

"I think people are embracing winter outdoor experiences probably in a way they previously haven't in the city, so I think we're going to continue to see growth in winter tourism," she said.

Rowland added that social media has played a role in bringing more people outside in the colder months.

"There's a really strong creative community and industry in Toronto, which lends itself nicely to some of the winter activities that we're seeing around the city."

COVID19 impact

Tourism Toronto says it's too early to predict the travel trends for 2020, but it's expected COVID19 will have an impact on the number of visitors coming from China. In 2019, it was Toronto's largest overseas market with 222,200 visitors. 

"It's hard to know what impact that will have," Weir said.

"Visitor numbers from China this year are likely to be down because we've seen such a significant decline in the first quarter."

Weir says with the growth the city has seen in tourism over the last decade, he expects visitors from other countries will fill that gap.

"That's why it's so important to have a diversified base of business."