Monday, August 20, 2007

Building a Brand for Toronto

I can’t think of a tougher job right now than being the new CEO over at Toronto Tourism. David Whitaker has been on the job since April 30th and it’s his mandate to put Toronto back on the tourist map and to create a tangible brand for this city – something we’ve lacked for years. He hails from Miami where he turned around that city’s musty, sun-drenched image into a vibrant, hip, fashionista place to be. And it worked. I flew to South Beach two years ago just to have a drink at the chic Delano Hotel and take a stroll past Gianni Versace’s house, and it was certainly worth the trip!

So what is Mr. Whitaker going to do for Toronto? One thing’s for sure: I hope he slashes and burns that insipid “Toronto Unlimited” tagline from every piece of literature it’s on now. When they unleashed that puppy, after spending $4 million to come up with it in 2005, the city became a collective vomitorium. It meant nothing, said nothing, and was an embarrassment for the city.

Now, let me be very transparent about this fact: I love this city! I don’t think anyone loves Toronto as much as I do. I was born and raised here, with no plans of leaving. But for the life of me, I can’t understand why we are failing to lure tourists to this remarkable city. Okay, the rising dollar is indeed a factor, but the SARS scare is history. So why aren’t Americans coming to T.O. for all we have to offer?

We have swanky hotels, some of the best restaurants (please don’t close down Scaramouche), a nightlife with a distinct vibe, and some of the most amazing attractions (yes, the CN Tower is still very cool). We have a new opera house that rivals those on the world stage (credit to the late great Richard Bradshaw, whose funeral will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Toronto's Anglican Cathedral Church of St. James) and more unique theatre productions popping up every year. And above all, this place is ultra clean and safe, safe, safe … did I say safe?

The only thing we have to fix in this city (no, not the potholes) is our “service” mentality. The one major complaint I have about this city is not with the physical beauty or the offerings: it’s the people. Those in the service business have to exude a service-like attitude all the time. Just travel to New York City where they take customer service to the highest degree. From the waiters to the concierge at any hotel, they treat every visitor with kid gloves. It’s the service in a city that keeps you coming back for more. You feel special, and who doesn’t want to feel that way?

Other than our snobbish service issues, Toronto has a lot to offer. But still we just can’t find the right lever to pull with that elusive American audience.

One thing’s for sure, I don’t envy Mr. Whitaker’s job. He’s got to reach out to the world, create a brand for our city, and keep a ton of people happy, including about 2.5 million Torontonians who are vocal ambassadors for this city.

Good luck, sir. I’ll be watching.


Christine Smith said...

Recently returned from a one-day trip to Walden Galleria Mall, just outside of Buffalo, NY and I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about improving Toronto's service mentality. At Walden, not only were each of the clerks friendly and knowledgeable, they went an extra step. Two examples: at Macy's the clerk identified me as a Canadian (was it my "eh?") and gave me a form qualifying me for an additional 11% discount at Macy's. Good for five days. At Ann Taylor, the clerk made it possible (in just 10 minutes) to: open an Ann Taylor credit card. get a discount for doing so and allowing the purchase to be paid immediately with the U.S. cash I had on hand. Not only that, she apologized for it taking so long! If only we could experience this consistently in Toronto.

ZoeyBella said...

I agree with you 100% I was just in New York City this spring the difference in service is amazing.

But Toronto needs to go above and beyond in order to bring people in. Busker fests at the market and souvlaki street fairs on the Danforth aren't going to reel in the big bucks. Mr. Whitaker has his work cut out for him.

And the city needs to co-operate too.

Julie Rusciolelli said...

Yup, Taste of the Danforth is pretty lame, closing a street or two for a few days is nothing compared to NYC which closes off parts of mid-town and Little Italy for months on end in the summer. You're right Zoey, we need to do a lot more than this to attract those southern visitors. I think we should start with a word of mouth campaign. Get every Torontonian that travels abroad to sing Toronto's praises and encourage our American neigbors to visit us. Imagine how many people we can influence just by saying "come and visit our great city .. you won't be disappointed!"

Martini said...

The older I get, the less advertising I see for Toronto, tourism in particular. I love the city, and travel there fairly often, but my observation is that they're spending their money on things other than advertising. If you flaunt it, they will come.

FixedXorBroken said...

I think we should start with a word of mouth campaign.

Like the Montreals do.