By Marian Staresinic
Meeting and event planners tend to always be the ones with their finger on the pulse of any given city. Whether they’re just visiting or call somewhere home, their clients look to them to entertain a variety of people on multiple levels while understanding their needs and introducing new event ideas, locations and experiences for business, pleasure or both at once.
I recently had the opportunity to connect with a long-time colleague and director of sales in tourism, Julie Holmen. Her bureau, Tourism Toronto, is a destination marketing organization with a main focus of promoting and selling the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as a hotspot for personal, business or corporate travel.
Valuable planning resource
Through face-to-face and digital rapport, Tourism Toronto, like many tourism boards, has become an important resource for planners and tourists alike, whether they’re new or seasoned visitors making connections with them. Julie and her team are responsible for finding and qualifying reliable, match-worthy event spaces, attractions, options and partnerships, similar to the efforts of a business concierge. Members of Tourism Toronto are indeed all pre-qualified with clear-cut qualities or offerings, making it easy for planners, clients and their guests to see through the smoke and noise of a saturated tourism-targeting market, making it crystal clear what their best and most thrilling selection can be.
Together, we discussed what local planners are always on the lookout for and which new trends and ideas the industry should keep an eye on.
In a nutshell, meeting and event planners are always looking for new team-building activities and rewarding leisure opportunities for individuals and for groups of many sizes. They also want to be sure that these trips are up-to-date, engaging and done in partnership with people and businesses who are knowledgeable yet friendly to work with. These planners are really looking to bring ideas to their clients that are exciting and unforgettable, bringing that true “WOW!” factor.
With places like Toronto becoming one of North America’s top food destinations, for example, more and more people are wanting to book trips around new and familiar cuisine-related experiences, something planners should keep in mind when it comes to venue knowledge and overall excursion know-how within the city.
“Planners should try new places that their guests and clients will thoroughly revel in,” says Holmen. “A lot of the time, they will ask, ‘What is the must-see food item of Toronto?’ The answer to that is, ‘There isn’t one, there are many!’ We have one of the largest Chinatowns in all of North America as well as the St. Lawrence Market, which is world famous. There are new restaurants popping up all over the place as well so it is hard to pinpoint one particular dish or cuisine that is native to Toronto. Our large, diverse food scene reflects the vast cultural diversity of Toronto.”
For clients and visitors wanting to literally take their love of cuisine and adventure to the city streets, Toronto Food Tours (TFT) would be a great place to start.
Tasty Toronto tours
Started by long-time food industry veteran chef Scott Savoie, TFT hosts a wide variety of guided tours which explore particular neighbourhoods or cuisines of the city, depending on your taste. These can be booked for individuals and small or large groups, offering teambuilding activity potential while having the opportunity to uncover restaurants and hotspots off the beaten path.
Top Toronto Food Tours picks are Old Chinatown, St. Lawrence Market and Old Town Toronto plus the Kensington Market. Others include the Ossington Strip, West End Brunch, the Historic Distillery District, Taste Little India, Greektown on the Danforth and Little Italy. Various drink tours are also available, including the widely popular Urban Whiskey Trail, a roving whiskey experience through downtown Toronto.
Even individual restaurants are taking advantage of the foodie tourism boom by offering interactive in-house experiences for new and regular customers alike. In collaboration with U-Feast/Pass the Table, an off-menu dining experience hub, Dundas West’s Queen Margherita Pizza (QMP) has been putting on Pizza Libs, a fun, hands-on pizza competition where participants are challenged to fill in the blanks to make the ultimate pizza. These pizzas are then judged by QMP pizza experts with many prizes and prepared samples up for grabs.
With the city’s grand scenes and ethnic diversity in mind, alongside even larger amounts of memorable, customizable excursion options, it is truly important for planners of all kinds to know not only how to tap into these options but to also know where and what their most helpful resources are.
“There is so much to see and do in our city,” says Holmen. “As we continue to grow, it’s important to have a few key outlets to keep abreast in the busy schedules of Toronto events. A great place to start is SeeTorontoNow.com, a site highlighting attractions to see, things to do, places to eat and main events happening all year round.”
Whatever you decide to do in your planning and initiatives, be sure that the objectives of you and your clients are clear and that your partnerships are solid. Whether you contact an agency or a tourism bureau, these partners should be reliable, respected and relatable, ensuring your experience is memorable and goes beyond the plate.
About the author
Marian Staresinic is the Vice President of Branding and Buzzing. She has been in the food business her whole career, beginning at Stratford Chefs School then as a restaurant and cooking school owner, celebrity chef talent manager, AGA Cooker Brand Manager, food editor and the founder of Windsor’s Slow Food chapter. Branding and Buzzing is a modern food marketing agency that brings the buzz to their clients through engaging consumer conversations, marketing campaigns, social media and real-life experiences that are inspirational, memorable and most importantly, brand-driven. For more information, visit brandingandbuzzing.com.