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Why Is Toronto Such A Poor Tourist Destination?

Last night I came up on a marketing blog post. The author argues, correctly, that Toronto is badly in need of a consistent and powerful marketing message that can put the city on the travel map and attract more tourists. Since moving to Europe I've gotten a better feel for this Toronto-as-a-tourist-attraction conundrum, which is why I think that even if the city had that message out tomorrow, there would be little substance to back it up.

1. History - Toronto is badly lacking in anything of historical significance. Black Creek Pioneer village, the old firehouse on Lombard, and the first post office on Adelaide are pretty much laughable as historical artifacts to any European tourist. They're not particularly special by North American standards either. Unless the tourism board wants to rewrite it, that's about it for history.

2. Culture - A bright spot here as Toronto is coming along in many respects. But it doesn't stand above the citywide cultural events that take place in many European cities. There are often good concerts though, and TIFF has been a great ambassador too. The AGO, ROM exhibitions, Nuit Blanche and some recent music festivals have raised the city's profile as well.  Maybe over time, with philanthropic investment in the sector, there will be even more high-profile art events to contribute to Toronto's cultural reputation.

3. World-class events - I like Barcelona as a comparison to Toronto because it wasn't a particularly significant tourist city until after the 1992 Olympics. They even had the same waterfront clean-up issue for a long time. Yet Barcelona somehow brought home the world of smartphones via the Mobile World Congress and continuously host major athletic events. It also hosts all kinds of conferences, it is world-renowned for its gastronomy, and all this without the rich histories of Rome, Paris, London, and other major European destinations. By the way, Barcelona also has an amazing transit system. Toronto should take note, this is one area where the city can, and really needs to, step up

4. Multiculturalism - While Torontonians are continuously fed the multiculturalism pill, it appears as though many places in the world are catching up. I'm now pretty sure this is one of those things we keep saying about Toronto because we (sadly) don't have much else to say. Multiculturalism is a natural by-product of globalization. Toronto may have started very early, but eventually most cities in the world will get there, then what's going to be so special about Toronto?

5. Food - This pretty much goes hand-in hand with the above. As people emigrate and bring their traditions along, food diversity will increase where they settle. The quality and dining experience is solely up to individual and this means that excellence will be found anywhere. I just traveled to Amsterdam where, according to their tourism bureau, "you can eat in any language" So, if anything, Toronto's got some catching up to do as far as messaging about food diversity.

6. Geography - This one hurts a bit. It's just too remote a city to visit for tourism's sake. Sure the CN tower and Niagara Falls are cool, but you won't find either of 'em on many bucket lists, more like on the 'nice to see' lists.

Toronto, for me, is a very livable city in many ways. But even now that I've been gone two years, I find it hard to pinpoint anything (friends aside) that I miss about it. All the same, here's my attempt at that marketing message.

Because there's very little below the surface, I can't see people ever booking trans-Atlantic travel for Toronto alone, but I bet that plenty of visitors to the North American continent can be persuaded to land in Toronto for some world-class food, North American sporting events, a concert, Niagara falls, and maybe even a certain film festival. It's fair to say that these little snippets of excellence make Toronto stopover worthy.

What do you think? If you've never visited Toronto, would you like to? Why?
If you live there, what do you think you'd miss most if you left?


  1. Hmm, the random Friday part of my brain suggests that the city fathers should rename the city 'Tomato'. Five of the letters of the name on all the signboards wouldn't have to change, and there'd be a definite boost in tourism ;) Who wouldn't want to visit Tomato?


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