With more than 5,000 police officers patrolling city streets, four kilometres of three-metre-high concrete and metal fencing surrounding a security zone in the heart of downtown, and the planned closures of attractions like museums, theatres, and sporting events, marketing the city during the G20 Summit could be a tough proposition.
But with 3,000 international media and 20,000 summit delegates scheduled to converge in Toronto this weekend, Tourism Toronto president and C.E.O. David Whitaker maintains that the event presents a tremendous opportunity for the city. “It’s a chance for us to show our capacity to host major international meetings and give people a firsthand experience of Toronto that will hopefully lead to them wanting to return,” Whitaker said in an interview. “We have a unique opportunity to expose Toronto and Canada to a world audience.”
While much has been made of the summit security costs—reported to be as high as $930 million—Whitaker chooses to focus on the potential for the city. “A lot of the focus tends to be the cost of security, the cost of logistics. What I think people need to realize is, this is a tremendous stimulus for Toronto. A year ago at this time, we were in the grips of one of the most significant downturns in our economy, and the tourism industry was not immune to that,” he said.
“We have 30,000 hotel rooms in Toronto, and almost every one of them is booked solid. We’ve calculated that it’s about 115,000 room nights that were contracted with official summit delegations and official groups,” he said. “When you do the math based on the average spend of the average stay, [the economic impact is] just over $53 million, and that’s a story we’re happy to tell.”
Although Toronto has hosted large conventions in the past, Whitaker said the visiting heads of state, the added security, the media interest, and the global nature of the countries involved make this event—which falls on the heels of the G8 Summit in Huntsville and takes place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Saturday and Sunday—unlike any other.
That's good news for the event industry, he said. “This is a chance for all of the aspects of the industry—decorators, suppliers, florists, food purveyors, logistics companies, security, transportation companies. This is a giant exercise. And the economics of it is, it really will be a major infusion to our skill set,” he said.
Whitaker also said the summit is a testament to the importance of meetings and conventions. “What is true to our core is, people need to meet face to face. For organizations, associations, corporations, politicians, business partners, or trade partners, there’s nothing like a face-to-face encounter,“ he said. “This, to a certain degree, is a super-hyped celebration of that.”