Last year was a pretty good year for tourism around the world.
New York City eclipsed the 50 million mark for the first time ever, luring 50.5 million visitors. Los Angeles also set a record, with more than 27 million. Hawaii attracted 7.3 million visitors, shy of their 2006 record but a solid four percentage points higher than 2010.
So it's probably no surprise that The Big Smoke sold more than 9 million hotel rooms for the first time ever. Our actual tourism numbers - roughly 10 million - were about the same, rising 1.8 per cent from 9,655,297 in 2010 to an estimated 9,827,318 last year.
(Officials explained that they only have the first half of 2011 figures from StatsCan, so they have to estimate the numbers. Because the media likes to analyze things quickly, they release estimates in January versus waiting months and months for true year-end numbers. In fact, I was told they only got the final 2010 numbers a couple weeks ago).
The good thing is that more folks stayed overnight and pumped money into our tourism industry than before. Tourism Toronto statistics show 6.4 million of our 10 million visitors were Canadians, an increase of about 0.6 per cent from 2010. Almost 80 per cent of those are from Ontario. Quebec accounted for 10.2 per cent of Canadian visits, while Alberta was at 3.3 per cent. You'd think B.C. might equal Alberta but Alberta folks likely are here more for business.
Toronto saw a 2.7 per cent increase in overnight visitors from the U.S. last year, despite the Canadian dollar being roughly at par. That's pretty good, when you consider we used to sell the city and our 80 cent dollar as a big advantage.
But those days are long gone. Toronto now sells itself as an urban destination on its own, with remarkably restaurants, cutting-edge bars, increasingly stylish architecture (about time) and tons of sleek, new hotel rooms - including the about to open Trump tower as well as the Ritz Carlton and the soon-to-open Shangri-La.
"Toronto has a new lustre among sophisticated U.S. travellers, illustrated by its inclusion as one of Travel + Leisure magazine's 'Hottest Destinations in 2012," said David Whitaker, President and CEO of Tourism Toronto.
The 2.7 per cent hike in overnight U.S. visitors marks the first time that number has risen since 2006.
We used to get a lot of families coming over from Cleveland or Buffalo. We still do, but last year the number of air arrivals to Toronto from the U.S. grew 6.7 per cent. That means urban types are coming, and they tend to stay longer and spend more when they're here. Which is good for the local economy.
It looks to me like Toronto has dropped in the number of daytime visitors from the U.S. Stats show arrivals to Ontario by car are down about five per cent, but nobody keeps track of how many cars are headed for Toronto specifically. Giving up daytimers for overnight stays is a good trade off , although tourism folks obviously would like ALL numbers to increase.
The U.S. accounted for just more than 2 million visitors in 2011, officials said. Next on the list of international visitors was the U.K, with 191,300 visits. That's down 2.6 per cent.
But Chinese visitors jumped 34.5 per cent to 154,100. Another year like that and China could eclipse the UK as Toronto's second biggest foreign market. And wouldn't THAT be an interesting development.
"They probably will (surpass the UK)," Tourism Toronto spokesperson Andrew Weir told me today. "It's amazing."
One other tidbit I'll try to examine later shows that more folks are arriving from California than ever before. Weir said California has overtaken all states but New York in terms of air arrivals into Toronto. We still get a lot of day trips from Buffalo, and Weir said that's great. But he also said more folks are arriving by air from Manhattan, which probably means they have a bit more jingle in their pockets.
Fourth on the international visiting list (after the U.S., the UK and China) was India at 75,200, an increase of 13.2 per cent. After that came Germany (down slightly), France (up 1.3 per cent), Japan (down a touch), Italy (up 9.3 per cent), Brazil (up 9.2 per cent) and South Korea (down just a hair).
Overseas visitors now account for 14 per cent of all visits to Toronto, officials said.
Toronto sold 9,181,769 hotel room-nights last year, up from 8,928,958 in 2010. That's a 2.8 per cent increase.
Hotel room supply in town jumped by 1,118 last year, giving the city more than 37,000 rooms in total. The growth rate in Toronto in 2011 was third-highest in North America, being eclipsed only by New York (which is going gangbusters) and Nashville.
New luxury hotels are sprouting up all over Toronto, with representation from the likes of Thompson, Le Germain Maple Leaf Square and the aforementioned Trump, Ritz-Carlton and Shangri-La properties. The new Four Seasons in Yorkville also is being built, and those hotels will continue to attract tourists with money to spend on theatre tickets, sporting events, restaurants, bars, clothing shops and even hot dog stands and Dairy Queen's.