by Brendan M. Lynch | April 01, 2004

Downtown Toronto:
Optimism is in the air.

One year after the SARS crisis decimated travel to Toronto, the city is on a rebound. Rising hotel occupancy rates and aggressive promotional spending are helping the cause.
    Indeed, SARS’ dent in the regional economy may be shallower than once feared. “SARS reduced growth by 0.8 percent,” said Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist with the Bank of Montreal. “But the downward impact on tourism was generally concentrated in the second quarter of 2003.”
The bounce-back started last year. Downtown Toronto hotels, having dipped to a record low occupancy of 42.7 percent in May 2003, rose to 75 percent by September.
    This January, these hotels began levying a 3 percent “destination marketing fee” on guest rooms to help fund efforts by Tourism Toronto. “Now we have $16-$17 million dollars,” says Susan Carter, Tourism Toronto’s vice president of marketing and communications. “We’re doing trade missions and going after international business. We’re adding new people to our sales force, adding sector specialists. The destination-marketing fee allows that.”
    Moreover, in February, Ontario officials pledged an additional $22.5 million toward provincial marketing.
    “Last year was challenging,” says Carter. “But the industry here pulled together. Planners out there will know that.”