“London Inc. – Part 8 – Tourism and Entertainment”

A Quick Thank You

Before sharing my perspective on and recommended strategies for London’s Tourism and Entertainment sectors, I just wanted to take a minute to thank the large number of readers who sent on such powerful words of encouragement and support following the media attention my blog received last week. Your notes and thoughtful suggestions make it clear to me that our community is looking for a new leadership not just in the Mayor’s Chair, but in several seats around Council.

Therefore, between now and election day, I remain committed to providing Londoners with as much information about me and my thought processes as possible to ensure that you can make an educated choice, one way or another.   In the meantime, thank you for taking the time to read my work and write to me.  It is sincerely appreciated.

In keeping with this commitment, I am pleased to share with you my impressions and expectations of one of the City’s best kept secrets inside its economic development portfolio, namely our tourism and entertainment sector.  This review is particularly timely given the positive and not-so-positive media attention the City’s tourism sector received this week.  On the plus side, congratulations must be extended to the Tourism London staff and its impressive roster of volunteers/organizations that were successful in securing the Hockey Canada Foundation Golf and Gala event next year, a noteworthy precursor to our city potentially serving as the host for a future World Junior Hockey tournament.  On the downside, Council’s decision to direct staff to explore the prospect of London serving as the host city for an upcoming International Plowing Match was, in my view, disappointing for a number of reasons that I shall share with you near the end of this post.

Our Tourism Success Story

I want to begin by highlighting the findings of a report that did not get much, if any, media attention.  Earlier this year, Tourism London published an Economic Impact Analysis to, as the title suggests, quantify the contribution of tourism to London’s economy.   The Analysis was conducted by the Canadian Tourism Research Institute, a division of the Conference Board of Canada and needless to say the results are very impressive.

According to the Analysis, London’s tourism industry generates a whopping $737 million in economic activity annually.  This includes accommodating over 2 million overnight stays per year, employing over 10,000 full-time and part-time workers, and contributing over $36 million each year to municipal tax coffers.

Their track record of attracting marquee events to our community is equally impressive.  In addition to stimulating considerable local economic value from residents and visitors alike, events such as the World Figure Skating Championships, Memorial Cups and Canadian Country Music Awards all raise the profile of London’s brand globally and our own civic pride locally.

Tourism London’s marketing and event attraction efforts are nicely complemented by exceptional operating teams working inside a solid roster of entertainment venues.  Few, if any, would contest the array of quality entertainers, acts, plays, shows, and events offered through The Grand Theatre, Budweiser Gardens, Centennial Hall, London’s Music Hall, the London Convention Centre and the Western Fair.

Finally, the City in partnership with numerous volunteer organizations have done an incredible job building the city’s capacity to successfully host a range of wonderfully-branded festivals that routinely generate record attendance numbers and build our regional brand.

City Hall also must be applauded for taking the steps it has to expand London’s entertainment profile through the loosening of restrictive noise bylaws and its support of such bid packages as the host city for the Juno Awards.

All of the above demonstrates London’s competency and commitment to its culture, tourism and entertainment cluster.  It is also consistent with the City’s Strategic Plan and a key contributor to its new vision.

It is for these reasons that I can not comprehend Council’s decision to direct Civic Administration and Tourism London to explore the prospect of hosting an upcoming International Plowing Match.   In addition to (once again) ignoring its own staff’s recommendation to pass on the event, Council is directing already constrained resources away from other, more valuable priorities, to pursue an event with unknown economic upside, an exhaustive use of resources, and little fit with the City’s approved plan to “promote the range of cultural institutions and entertainment offerings events and programs in the downtown and surrounding urban neighbourhoods”.

A Game Plan For Further Growth 

In my view, the strategies for this sector going forward are simple.

  1. Keep doing what you are doing because you are doing great. If anything, Council needs to get out of the way and let these organizations execute their plans.
  2. Direct a portion of any annual revenues earned from the tourism industry such as Western Fair’s gaming operation towards the establishment and advancement of London’s entertainment cluster and venues.
  3. Explore a public private partnership with the current operating team to renovate, replace, or rebuild Centennial Hall prior to the exhaustion of its lifecycle.
  4. Continue to push for the introduction of a nominal room tax so that visitor revenues can remain with the municipality and be redeployed into the city’s entertainment infrastructure.

While London’s tourism and entertainment sector already performs spectacularly well, the opportunity to expand the city’s economy, working class job prospects, and regional profile is well worth the investment of additional resources. London’s size, track record, energy level and geography suggest that this an industry that should not just be supported, but celebrated.