TORONTO — At first glance, you wouldn’t think Toronto and Los Angeles have very much in common.
For one thing, the two cities are in different countries. One is on the East Coast, the other on the West. One is known for its harsh Canadian winters, the other is blessed with year-round sun and temperate weather. But according to Adam Burke, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, the two metropolises are more alike than one may think, which is why Toronto was one of two cities to be included in the organization’s Canadian roadshow this week.
Speaking with Travelweek following Tuesday night’s in-market event at Toronto’s Love Child Social House, and ahead of the Board’s Vancouver stop on April 28-29, Burke says that Toronto and Los Angeles both share a natural affinity for arts and culture, a fanatical devotion to its respective sports teams, as well as the distinction of being two of the most diverse and inclusive communities in the world. These commonalities serve as the foundation for what is now a decades-long relationship between Los Angeles and Toronto, and with Canada overall.
“Canada has always been one of our top performing markets – in 2019, it ranked among the top three globally for visitation. The simplest way I can put it is, there is no economic recovery in L.A. without Canada – full stop,” says Burke. “If you go back to 2019 alone, over 775,000 Canadians, which is a record number, contributed over US$410 million to our local economy. So when you have almost half a billion dollars of economic impact, it’s so critical that we roll out the red carpet and welcome back Canadians.”
Recovery will be a slow burn, adds Burke, noting that it will take some time for Los Angeles to return to pre-pandemic numbers. But the Canadian market, buoyed by Canada’s newly eased travel restrictions and increased airlift (Canada’s major airlines have already returned to L.A., and Air Transat will be launching Montreal service on May 16), is already seeing some major gains.
“This year alone, we expect to be about two-thirds of the way back in terms of Canadian arrivals,” says Burke. “And by next year, we expect to pretty much be fully recovered, which is massively important to us.”
HEALTH & SAFETY
One other similarity between Los Angeles and Toronto is their hard-line approach to health and safety. Both cities implemented lockdowns and restrictions throughout the pandemic to help curb the spread of COVID-19, and both drew global criticism for their severity and slow reopening. But according to Burke, the cautious way both cities have handled the pandemic was absolutely appropriate.
“I think there was a bit of a false narrative maybe a year and a half ago that somehow health and safety were at odds with economic recovery. And I totally disagree. I think the only way you can have a sustainable economic recovery is by leading with health and safety,” he says.
Early on in the pandemic, in the absence of a coordinated federal policy, Los Angeles’s county health director Barbara Ferrer “followed the science” and formed a task force to help implement CDC’s health and safety regulations across a dozen different verticals, including arts and cultural institutions, sports and entertainment venues, and hotels and restaurants. Today, though there still isn’t a uniform policy in place, with some stadiums, attractions and local businesses requiring proof of vaccination and timed entries while others are not, Burke is reassuring Canadians that they’ll still find a very comfortable and familiar experience during their visit.
“I would really recommend that people check with each venue in advance, to see what their requirements are,” says Burke. “But most importantly, I would recommend going to our website, www.discoverlosangeles.com, and look up our member businesses, which we have over 1,000 of. We link to all their health and safety protocols.”
Los Angeles didn’t just sit back and rest on its laurels during the pandemic, says Burke. In fact, the city offers more things to do now than before the pandemic as a result of major capital improvements. One of the most notable new offerings is the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, regarded as the largest museum in the U.S. devoted to the arts, sciences and artists of moviemaking. Opened September 2021, the museum is so comprehensive, so specially curated that it took Burke three separate visits to see it in its entirety.
For sports enthusiasts, Los Angeles welcomed this year its first professional women’s soccer team – the Angel City Football Club – owned by a bevy of celebrities like Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria, Mia Hamm and Serena Williams.
And as for accommodations, in 2021 alone, Los Angeles added a “mind-boggling” 2,100 new hotel rooms, something that’s practically unheard of in the middle of a global pandemic, says Burke.
“Developers could have either scaled back or hit the pause button, but they didn’t because they know that with all our major events coming up in the next decade, we’re going to need the hotels,” he adds.
Notable new hotel offerings include the completely reimagined Century Plaza Hotel, which first opened in 1966 and is now operating under the Fairmont flag as Fairmont Century Plaza, as well as several luxury boutique hotels like the Thompson Hollywood, The Godfrey Hotel Hollywood and Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel, the city’s only luxury lifestyle hotel with a rooftop pool and restaurant.
A MESSAGE FOR TRAVEL AGENTS
Now more than ever, the role of destination organizations like L.A. Tourism and travel agents have become even more important, says Burke, with travellers looking for “a trusted source that will provide accurate and timely information, and absolute expertise on what to expect from a destination.” Similar to how travellers are heading to L.A. Tourism’s website for help (“Our website traffic has gone up exponentially,” says Burke), so too are they turning to travel agents for expert advice.
“No one wants to go to a theme park and not be informed of what the requirements are. So as a result, we’ve seen the role of travel advisors take on even more prominence and I think that’s going to be here to stay,” says Burke.
Adding that travel agents will play an essential role in bringing Canadians to Los Angeles, Burke says the city is more than ready to welcome them back.
“It’s just not the same here without international visitors,” he says. “Part of what makes Los Angeles such an amazing place to live and visit is its international visitation, which brings this energy, this infusion of different cultures and traditions. We’ve missed that. So we cannot wait to roll out the red carpet and bring people back to L.A. again.”
For more information on travel to Los Angeles, go to https://www.discoverlosangeles.com/.