Canada’s largest city picks up its game.
By Don Douloff
By any measure, Toronto enjoyed a banner year in 2012, marked by a feather-in-the-city’s-cap conference and a bumper crop of upscale hotel and restaurant openings.
During the past two years, the city has experienced a surge in high-end hotels, beginning with the launch of the Thompson Toronto, in 2010, in King West Village, and the opening, in 2011, of the Ritz-Carlton Toronto, in the Entertainment District.
But this was truly a landmark year, as three big-name, high-end hotels, along with two stylish, boutique-style properties, threw open their doors.
At the end of January, Trump International Hotel & Tower, Toronto, opened, featuring 261 guestrooms and suites. Every inch, from the lobby to the main ballroom, has been carefully thought out.
In late August, Shangri-La Hotel Toronto debuted, on a bustling stretch of lower University Avenue. Punctuating the 202-room hotel is an elegant feng-shui feel, anchored by Asian touches.
The third of the city’s high-profile hotel openings came in early October, when the Four Seasons Toronto launched. Considered the luxury chain’s flagship, the 259-room Toronto location is a study in classy, earth-toned understatement.
Out near the airport, Groupe Germaine, in June, opened ALT Hotel Toronto Pearson (“a key player in smaller corporate meetings,” notes David Whitaker, president and CEO of Tourism Toronto).
In May, the coolly minimalist Templar launched in the Entertainment District. Part of the Design Hotels group, the Templar features 27 loft-style guestrooms and bespoke high-end furnishings.
And when it comes to 2012 restaurant openings from big-deal chefs, the city’s plate runneth over.
Nestled in the Four Seasons are Cafe Boulud and dbar, the first Toronto outposts of New York superchef Daniel Boulud.
Adjacent to, but not affiliated with, the Shangri-La is New York star chef David Chang’s troika of Toronto restaurants: Momofuku Noodle Bar (no reservations, primarily communal seating); Daisho (large-format, set-price meals and a la carte menu) and Shoto (high-end tasting menu).
At Bosk, in the Shangri-La, chef Jean-Paul Lourdes conjures upscale French dishes with Asian influences. Toronto’s star chef, Susur Lee, along with his two sons, opened Bent, a casual room with a creative menu of sushi, sashimi, ceviche, crudo and hot items.
In early October, Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich launched Richmond Station, a 3,000-sq.-ft. restaurant/lounge serving the kind of upscale-homey, farm-to-table cuisine that took Heinrich to victory in the culinary competition.
Why so much activity in a single year? Why now?
Whitaker attributes at least part of Toronto’s allure to its “continuing evolution as one of the most cosmopolitan and international cities in North America, if not the world, which is appealing to meeting planners, convention delegates and leisure travellers seeking such experiences to tap into.”
Tapping into the Toronto experience was the Microsoft 2012 Worldwide Partners Conference, which took place over four days back in July. An enormous coup for the city, the conference attracted 15,000 delegates, vendors and suppliers, representing technology companies in 130 countries.
Another key barometer of the city’s draw came via the Watkins Research survey, contracted by 47 of the top meetings destinations in North America, including several Canadian destinations.
Each year, this survey polls over 650 of North America’s top meeting and conventions planners, and polls and ranks hotel experience, meeting experience, services and such things as perception of safety.
“We at Tourism Toronto are quite pleased that among all categories, Toronto ranked number three in all of North America and number one in Canada,” says Whitaker.
The secret’s out. Toronto’s booming!
–Don Douloff is Managing Editor of Meetings + Incentive Travel.
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In summer, 2013, the 1.5-million-gallon Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada will open next to the iconic CN Tower. Covering 130,000 sq. ft., the display area will feature 45 exhibits (plus interactives). The aquatic-life facility’s aim: foster environmental education, conservation and research, while entertaining, too. ripleyaquariums.com