Ontario pushes hard to encourage its holidaying citizens to 'stay home'

Last summer most of the major newspapers in Ontario carried a special advertising supplement on tourism. However, the supplement wasn't promoting some far-off sundrenched island -- much like many Ontarians visit -- but Ontario itself. IT highlights a basic problem that Ontario faces: Many Ontarians would rather vacation outside the province than in it.

Larry Grossman, the minister of industry and tourism, says he doesn't blame people for wanting to get some sun during the winter months. "I really don't accuse Canadians of disloyalty for not taking their vacations here," he says, but adds, "If they are thinking of taking a ski vacation, I hope they look at Ontario."

To try to influence Ontarians to remain in the province, the Ministry of Industry and Tourism has mounted a campaign called, "Ontario yours to discover." Through newspaper supplements, and spot television and radio ads, the ministry has been touting the region's appeal: from its huge hunting and fishing areas to the "razzle dazzle" of toronto. It hopes to stem some of the "tourism deficit," that exists both in Canada and Ontario.

In 1979 Canada's travel deficit was $1,068 million. Ontario's share came to Ontario's deficit should come down to $380 million.

However, to erase the deficit, Ontario must cope with some major problems:

1. The Canadian dollar is weak. While this is good for the tourist once in Canada, it also means that Ontario has fewer advertising dollars to work with in the US and overseas.

2. Many in the US think that if the US is having gasoline shortages, the same shortages must exist north of the border. indirectly connected with fuel shortages are the major unemployment problems in the Detroit area. Tourism from Michigan is important to Ontario, which is only a "tankful of gasoline" away from the border.

3. Ontario faces increasing competition for the tourist dollar. Both Quebec and New York State, Ontario's major tourism rivals, have dramatically increased their advertising budgets while Ontario's budget has not kept pace.

In the past four years the State of New York has increased its budget from $ 250,000 to $14 million while the province of Quebec will have spent $10 million in 1980, up from a much lower base in 1979. In 1980 Ontario spent $9.6 million on advertising and marketing, up from $6.1 million in 1979.

Mr. Grossman hopes that some new hotels and destination theme parks will help stem the travel deficit. Taft Broadcasting is in the process of building a $110 million theme park, called Maple Theme Park, north of Toronto. When the park opens this May, Taft hopes to attract 3 million to 4 million visitors a year.

In Toronto CN is building a new convention center which it has estimated will attract 650,000 visitors a year, who will spend about $86 million. On top of the convention center, CN is building a new 600-room hotel. In spite of the new hotel, tourism officials estimate hotel space will continue to be tight during conventions and major events, such as the Canadian National Exhibition.

Mr. Grossman would also like to find a way to extend the tourism season since it currently lasts only 70 to 80 days. Specifically, he is trying to get some of the resorts to work on attracting a fall and spring tourist.

Even though tourism now ranks second in the province in terms of employment and provincial tax revenues, Mr. Grossman is convinced "tourism in Ontario has not yet reached its full potential."

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