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Report on Business Raptors NBA Finals mania a boon for Toronto’s tourism, hospitality sectors

Toronto Raptors fans celebrate in the closing seconds of the team's 100-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks to take the NBA Eastern Conference Championship, in Toronto on May 25, 2019.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Raptors mania is proving a slam dunk for Toronto’s tourism and hospitality sector.

As basketball fans pour into the city to watch Canada’s team fight for the NBA championship, hotels are booked solid, flights are filling up, and bars and restaurants are seeing sales skyrocket.

“You cannot buy the kind of advertising and exposure across North America and other markets" that Toronto is getting from the NBA Finals, said Terry Mundell, president and chief executive of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association.

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Rooms in the city are “absolutely sold out,” Mr. Mundell said. There are more than 23,000 hotel rooms in Toronto, and he expects all of them to be full for Games 1 and 2.

Airbnb is also seeing a spike in bookings. Twenty-four per cent more rooms were booked on Thursday night in the city for Game 1 compared with the same day last year, director of public policy Alex Dagg said. For Game 2, on Sunday, bookings were up 15 per cent by Thursday compared with a year ago, but Ms. Dagg expects that number will creep up as the game approaches.

Porter Airlines has seen a “noticeable increase” in ticket sales to Toronto in the days leading up to the opening game, particularly from U.S. cities, spokesman Brad Cicero said.

Bars and restaurants were filling up hours before the opening tip-off on Thursday. Andrew Kaiser, owner of Toronto sports bars The Dock Ellis and The Aviary, said Thursday that he expects to easily double his usual sales.

Barry Taylor, director of operations with Ballroom, a downtown bar, said reservations to watch the first game of the series were maxed out “the moment we won” the semi-finals.

When the Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday to advance to the NBA Finals, Matthieu Jang in Kelowna, B.C. made plans to fly to Toronto to see the team that he loves play in the first championship in franchise history.

He bought Game 5 lower-bowl tickets for a little more than $5,000 each from ticket resale outlet StubHub, and will book flights once the Raptors secure their first win.

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“[It’s] going to be a memory we’ll never forget,” he said.

Nicole Ricci, who lives in Ottawa and drove to Toronto for Thursday’s game, said it was a chance to be a part of history.

“The Raptors have never been in the Finals, and as much as they’re Toronto’s team, they’re also Canada’s team.” She was planning to watch from Jurassic Park, outside Scotiabank Arena, and also make the most of her time in the city by dining out and going shopping.

The city will be missing out on business from at least one long-distance Raptors fan, though. Brenda Melanson of Digby, N.S., said scalpers thwarted her family’s plans to spend a weekend in Toronto cheering on the team.

When it was Ms. Melanson’s turn to buy tickets on TicketMaster’s virtual queue, she said only resale tickets priced at three times their original value remained.

“It just infuriates me that people buy these tickets knowing they’re not going to the game,” she said.

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A few hours before Game 1, the cheapest tickets available on StubHub, for balcony standing room, were going for about $750 each.

In addition to the short-term boost in tourism revenue that the NBA Finals bring to the city, there are also intangible longer-term benefits related to exposure, according to Andrew Weir, executive vice-president of Tourism Toronto.

“It’s an opportunity to continue to shift perceptions about the city,” he said. “And create more interest, desire and demand for people to come visit.”

For urban destinations such as Toronto, Mr. Weir said a vibrant energy is important to entice visitors. He says he thinks those in the city this week will witness the best side of it.

Visitors will see “the city very, very much alive.”

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