Marketing Toronto: Work vs. Play
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Marketing Toronto: Work vs. Play

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Yesterday’s Star had an interesting article that shed some light on the inner workings of Tourism Toronto, now famous for its embarrassing (and perhaps plagiarized) Toronto Unlimited campaign. Especially of interest to us was the contrast between New York’s and Toronto’s approaches to attracting visitors with external offices:

NYC & Company spokesperson Chris Heywood said the Toronto office will mainly promote leisure travel.
But Andrew Weir, vice-president of Tourism Toronto, said his agency finds external offices most effective in promoting conventions and business travel. Hence the choice of cities where there are heavy concentrations of business groups that plan conventions.

This may make perfect sense in light of Toronto the Good’s protestant work ethic, beige hotels and convention centres compared to what many may think of as New York’s big, bold and flashy mythical experiences like Broadway and Times Square. This confusion of perceptions could not be further from the truth.


Toronto is doing itself a major disservice by neglecting the importance of nightlife, one of its most sparkling gems, in attracting visitors. Indeed, what happens after the theatres, restaurants and museums close at night is of seemingly little interest to the decision-makers and civic boosters in Hogtown. We are lightyears ahead of New York’s nightlife, with its draconian Cabaret Law (dancing in a NYC club that lacks a dancing permit is illegal, fewer than 300 such permits exist), stringent noise laws, regular police stings and frequent padlocking of venues. At the same time, most Americans have no idea that Toronto regularly attracts many more famous international DJs and bands to its hundreds of bars, concert venues and clubs where one may drink at 19 and perhaps indulge in less-than-legal intoxicants with relative impunity, free from the American government’s (and New York City government’s) failed war on freedom. Are we implying that Toronto is a bit of a Sin City? Maybe just a liberated one.
Toronto would do well to consult nightclub magnates on this front, and Mayor David Miller may have started the ball rolling by asking Zark Fatah how to make Toronto a “creative city.” In his Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida notes that museums tend to “attract more gray heads than purple ones,” astutely pointing out that our addiction to starchitecture may give us some fresh material, but may not be enough to alter creative people’s experience of the city (then again, maybe the ROM gets it: the crystal is being launched with a giant party in the middle of the night!). Why aren’t we also asking people like Chris “Anabolic” Frolic of Hullabaloo fame, who built an empire on drawing Americans to Canada for his massive quarterly events, what more we could be doing to promote our city? When one finds oneself at a nightlife event in Toronto, be it a show upstairs at Sneaky Dee’s, an electro party at the Mod Club or a rave at the Docks, one needs only to ask “Where are you from?” to realize that Toronto’s parties attract people from a plethora of American locales, not just the border cities.
And when asked the question, “What more could we be doing to promote our city?” There are a number of steps we can take:

  • Award more grants to nightlife event promoters. Sometimes venue rentals or flying famous artists in is just too expensive.
  • Start talking about nightlife in promotional materials for the city. Maybe those purple, teardrop-shaped musical notes should be turntables and speakers.
  • Allow all night dance parties on city property once again. This ban singlehandedly ended the 15,000 person dance music gatherings that characterized pre-2001 Toronto, leading to the current venue loss crisis.
  • Work more closely with event promoters to help promote their larger events.
  • Make it less legally risky for property owners to allow a nightlife event on their property.
  • Stop crackdowns against nightlife before they start. The recent Docks liquor license suspension was scary enough.
  • Repeal the curfew. Seriously. Those kids have money!
  • Loosen up alcohol laws; Montréal didn’t get its “fun” reputation among Americans by closing the bars at 2.

Indeed, if Toronto does not embrace its nocturnal personality, it will lose ground to cities like Los Angeles(!). L.A. is undoubtedly the nightlife capital of North America, considering the huge names that roll through every single night, and it is partly because the city realizes that fun is in. There is hope, though; obviously the mayor is listening, and hopefully that will one night translate into a more fun, appealing and prosperous city for everyone.
Photo by oprimo on Flickr.

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