ravel Weekly senior editor David
Cogswell sat down with Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the economic
development committee of Toronto, to discuss the impact of SARS on
Q:How badly is SARS hurting
A:The hotel vacancy rates are high. The tour
operators are suffering heavily. The restaurants in the downtown
tourist areas are being hurt.
But if you were walking downtown, you can't see any difference.
People aren't wearing masks. But if you talk to hoteliers or
individuals in the restaurant and entertainment industries, they
are certainly feeling the impact.
Q:Has it gotten worse since the second
World Health Organization advisory?
A: We had to pull back our ad campaign. We
found that when you have headlines on the front page saying there
are new cases, it doesn't make much sense to try to attract people
to come as tourists.
We learned a lesson -- we thought we had turned the corner, but
we hadn't. So this time we're going to wait until we have a higher
degree of certainty. We'll wait for the all-clear from the Medical
Officer of Health.
Q:What is the city's strategy for dealing
with the loss of tourism revenue?
A: Our governments, provincial and federal, are
trying to mount a recovery campaign.
We are spending at least $225 million over a two-year period.
Our information tells us that a lot of folks aren't looking [to
visit] Toronto this season.
So we are focusing on Torontonians. We'll have to depend on them
to become tourists in their own city.
Q:Is there a danger of many companies
being unable to survive this, and will the government bail out
A: There is the danger of businesses going out.
The best thing we can do is to encourage people -- especially
Torontonians -- to come out and spend money.
Promoting the city's attractions is the best way to encourage
tourism. I don't think we'll be providing direct financial
assistance to those struggling companies, though.
Q:Can you save the summer season?
A: We're not expecting a high level of
visitors. We'll be grateful for any tourism. But it's important
that we face the reality that our leisure tourism will suffer this
Nevertheless, we may have some very exciting things coming out.
We're planning some free [or] very inexpensive concerts this summer
featuring the Rolling Stones, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan and
possibly Alanis Morissette.
And travel agents should know that right now there are some
great bargains here.
Q:Is the Toronto Film Festival still
A: We are still hopeful. The film festival is
in the fall, so we are going full speed ahead on that.