Friday, July 29, 2005


I wanted to weigh in, if I might, on the whole controvesy surrounding the new "Toronto Unlimigted" tourism campaign. For those who might not know, the campaign (logo above) was unveiled a number of weeks ago to pretty well lukewarm to negative reviews. Most people saw it as uninspired and completely underwhelming (which in my mind, makes it a perfect fit for Toronto).

Anyway, coupled with this logo and the accompanying ads prominently featuring the logo were another set of ads that ran in New York. One ad featured events (such as the Molson Indy) that had already occured. The other ran text that didn't even sound like proper english:

"And while all these answers are true. It is barely scratching the surface.
Toronto is one of those rare instances where its true unique nature makes it
difficult to describe without being cliche."


While the ads generally suck, that's actually not what concerns me. What I'm most worried about is the solution Mayor David Miller and some Toronto Councillors are prescribing. The debate around the "Toronto Unlimited" campaign gives us a glimpse into how Toronto will function if given more legislative, regulatory and taxation powers.

The "Toronto Unlimited" campaign is wholly funded by a voluntary fee paid for by local hotels. In fact, this fee generates over $20 million annually. Until now, Tourism Toronto, an independent organization for the local tourism industry has carried the freight for the promotion of tourism in Toronto. They pay the fees, they control what they do with the money.

But this "disasterous" ad campaign has prompted Mayor Miller to suggest that since promotion of Toronto is on behalf of Torontonians, those who represent Torontonians--Councillors--should have the final say in how that money is spent.

Let's leave aside 9for the moment) the fact that Miller almost singlehandedly blew $4-million by constantly complaining about the ads.

From the Globe:

"An expert on branding from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto said the mayor broke one of the cardinal rules of marketing by not standing behind his own product, "killing" the $4-million campaign.

"To be spending $4-million out of one hand and then on the other hand to be saying that it's an embarrassment and indefensible, boy that speaks to me as a shocking waste of money," David Dunne said."

Council? Waste money? No.

So, what does Mayor Miller want to do with the millions collected from hotels? More festivals? Discounts on room rates? A comprehensive push to get more people to visit Toronto?

Nope. He and Council want the money to subsidize the local arts community and pay for local programs.

From the Toronto Star:

"Miller has already questioned whether Tourism Toronto should remain an arm's-length organization.

"We should have a much bigger role in (selling Toronto) because it's about what Torontonians think of themselves as well as how we sell ourselves to potential visitors," he told reporters yesterday.

"The hotel tax — which is self-imposed at the moment — I think one could argue pretty persuasively from a public policy point of view, it should support arts and culture in the city, not just marketing."

He argued that some of that money could go toward boosting attractions that are "tired."

[Councillor Brian] Ashton added some of the $25 million fund could go to arts and culture, clean streets or "it could even be flower pots."

You know, the arts community that received $8.5 million in grants last year? Or the $12 million on the "Clean and Beautiful City" initiative? Sounds like it isn't a revenue problem--its more about "dancing with the ones that brung ya".

The bigger issue here is that this debate clearly telegraphs the City's mindset: Got Money? More programs and spending.

Why is this important? For the last year, Toronto has been engaged in discussions with the McGuinty government on the new City of Toronto Act, which would give Toronto (and other municipalities) wide ranging taxing and regulatory powers. One of those powers they have been pushing for is the ability to levy a hotel tax.

Now you can see why hoteliers would rather do it on their own, thank you very much. Because Council will spend it on their priorities. And as we have seen, Council priorities often don't include supporting business or the taxpayer.

All Ontario taxpayers should watch this seemingly benign debate closely. Its a definite sign of things to come. And those things are more taxes, more programs, more waste.

Grab you wallet, folks.

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