The tourists are here

by Jini Stolk

A friend who used to run T.O.TIX recently reminded me about a couple from upstate New York who came to the half-price ticket booth one summer almost 20 years ago, liked what they saw, and have returned every summer since to see theatre. This is the kind of enthusiasm that counts – and that we, now, can count.

The Ontario Arts Council’s Ontario Arts and Culture Tourism Profile (Executive Summary and Full report) prepared by Research Resolutions & Consulting Ltd. reveals just how many tourists take in a show or visit a gallery or museum while in town – and how important these cultural attractions are to bringing them to the city. These 2010 stats show that a rather stunning 39% of American and 63% of overseas overnight visitors to Ontario participate in arts and cultural activities; when you add in Canadians from other provinces, a full 22% of Ontario visitors (9.5 million of them) partake in the arts.

We have a continuing clout in this area long past the Phantom of the Opera/Les Mis era: 44% of North American tourists say that arts and culture was their main reason for travelling to Ontario. Proving that they’re totally on the cutting edge of wonderful, arts and cultural tourists stay longer and spend more on everything including lodging, food and shopping – twice as much as non-arts attending tourists; this phenomenon extends outside our borders, according to Arts and Culture in Urban or Regional Planning: A Review and Research Agenda from the Journal of Planning Education and Research (January 2010, by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa)

Whether or not you’re personally noticing gains at your box office these are important numbers that expand the reputation of our artists and underpin our reputation as an arts centre. ARTSBlog calls arts travelers ideal tourists, and Randy Cohen ranks them #5 among the top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2013.

Of course, these types of statistics were well used by the Toronto Arts Council, TAPA and others during the recent successful campaign to increase arts funding in Toronto. That the arts have a strong economic impact is a decisive argument for many politicians. But since it’s always better to negotiate from a position of strength, I think many of us could use this information more forcefully to forge partnerships with downtown businesses and in promotions and advertising year-round. Are you talking to, or better yet involved in, your local B.IA.? Do you work with your local Bed and Breakfasts, restaurants and bars?

Every year there’s a moment when I look up and notice couples studying maps and large groups of people speaking languages I don’t recognize. The tourists are here, and I’m always happy to see them looking at Toronto with new eyes. I’m even happier now that I know they’re probably visiting museums, galleries, performances, festivals, and historic sites.

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