Montreal touts cuisine, culture as hotel occupancy increases


Glass sculpture in front of Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal.MONTREAL — It's got cobblestones, canals and a cafe on every corner, year-round jazz, paddleboats in summer, hockey in winter, 80 nationalities and 5,000 restaurants.

"We are foodies," said Montreal tourist guide Nadia Battani. "We get together to eat good food and there is plenty of it here,"

Montrealers also party. The bilingual city on the island of the same name hosts more than 100 festivals a year, with the annual Jazz Festival drawing more than 1.5 million visitors alone during the 10-day event. (Click here or on the images for a slideshow from Gay's recent trip to Montreal.)

Not surprisingly, the U.S. makes up Montreal's largest market, apart from fellow Canadians, accounting for 1.1 million visitors in 2012 out of a total of 8.3 million total visitors (2013 totals are not yet available).

Overall tourist growth of 3.4% for 2014 is forecast for all visitors.

"Montreal is a favorite destination for Americans," said Yves Lalumiere, president and CEO of Tourisme Montreal, the official tourism voice of the city. "Our city has all the charms our neighbors to the south enjoy, and it is never boring."

Most U.S. visitors hail from the East Coast and Midwest, although Battani said, "I do guided tours throughout Quebec, and I'm seeing more bookings from California and the West."

More than 56% of U.S. visitors enter Montreal by car. On a clear day from Mont Royal, the jewel of Montreal's city parks, Vermont is visible, only 60 miles to the south.

Another 36% arrive by air, and most stay an average of three nights. The city has a mix of hotels totaling 19,518 rooms. The luxury 96-room, 33-suite Ritz-Carlton, across from the Museum of Fine Arts, opened in 1912 and underwent a $200 million renovation two years ago.

The 123-room Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier in city center is within walking distance of several museums and metro stops.

Two recent hotel openings in the downtown area include the trendy 154-room ALT District Griffin and the 220-room Marriott Courtyard.

ALT, a Canadian hotel company, believes in the "less is more" philosophy, which means no room service, valets or doormen and holding to the same rates throughout the year, no matter the season.

Set to open in 2015 is the 130-room Hotel Saint-Amable in Vieux Montreal and the 90-room Hotel Mount Stephen in a historical downtown building.

Buttercream sculptureHotel occupancy in Montreal is trending upward, averaging 66.6% this year, compared with 63.8% a year ago, according to Pierre Bellerose with Tourisme Montreal.

Since 2013, hotel rates have returned to the levels reached in 2008.

Montreal's 38 museums remain a top draw for tourists, and a new, free iPhone app displays local museums by name, location and current exhibits.

Details on the three-day Montreal museum pass, $80 with public transport included, are found at

Running through Oct. 5 at the Museum of Fine Arts, the grande dame of the Canadian museum world, is an exhibit of 240 works of Russian jeweler Carl Faberge, including many of his famous Easter eggs.

"Montrealers love art, and the city wisely ruled that 1% of the total cost of any new building must be allotted for public art," Battani said.

Just outside the main gate of McGill University is the "Illuminated Crowd" sculpture depicting 65 people in various stages of life.

"It's made of polyester resin, but most of us call it the 'Buttercream' sculpture because that is what the material resembles," Battani said.

Montreal's public transport system gets a thumbs-up from visitors who find it is easy to use and inexpensive to navigate.

"We're also seeing more visitors climb on bikes to tour the city," Battani said. "Montreal has BIXI, a bike-share program with 400 stations throughout the city. Cost is approximately $7 for 24 hours, and we also offer guided bike tours to different neighborhoods."

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 


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