Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
Stratford has received some great press so far this tourist season, but it’s not necessarily translating into visits.
Many businesspeople and accommodation providers are finding the 2012 season is a “soft” one, meaning tourism numbers appear to be down in the city.
Stratford Tourism Alliance executive director Eugene Zakreski confirmed visits to its information centres were down about nine per cent in May and June compared to the same time period last year. That trend continued into July.
“It’s disappointing and we’re at a loss to explain why that may be happening,” Zakreski told the Gazette.
He suspects the warm temperatures could be partly to blame, especially since many visitors at this time of year tend to be older. The high humidex also could be sending travellers to vacation near the water. Resort business has increased this summer, whereas last year – when the weather left much to be desired – the resorts took a hit, Zakreski said.
While he touted the strength of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s playbill, he noted that if travellers aren’t finding it appealing, it could also cut down on the number of shows they take in and nights they spend in the city.
In total, 27 articles have been published, in both print and online, since the start of May. The stories have focused on Stratford as a city destination, not just on the theatre.
Frommer’s named Stratford one of the Top 10 vacation destinations this summer, and Reader’s Digest also gave the city a nod. An article in the New York Times last month – the first of its kind in the publication since 1988 – has also created a lot of buzz, said Zakreski.
“All signs are positive ... just ‘closing the sale’ is not taking place.”
Despite the drop in visits, there is a bright side. The STA’s spring campaign attracted about 35 per cent more visitors than last year and a new marketing campaign targeted to the GTA’s Chinese community also appears to be well received, Zakreski said.
August and September projections are good, with many accommodations providers saying they are busy enough to cover losses earlier in the season.
Summer Music tickets are selling well – a testament to the talent artistic producer John Miller has been able to attract, said Zakreski – and advance sales for Savour Stratford are also stronger than previous years.
Justin Bieber continues to be a draw for young families, with approximately 10,000 maps being scooped up since the self-guided tour based on the pop star’s haunts was created.
The STA is taking a proactive approach to October, which it suspects could be slower than usual, similar to the last three months. It has met with the Festival – which Zakreski said is also experiencing a “softer” season – and surveyed its members to gauge interest in marketing value packages to stimulate tourism.
“We’ll analyze the data, meet again with the Festival and hopefully come up with some strategies,” he said.