The NBA All-Star Game is taking over Toronto next weekend, and if you want to book a hotel room or make a restaurant reservation in the city's downtown – good luck.
"Most hotels [in downtown Toronto] have sold out completely," says Aminata Diop, director of business development for Le Germain Hotel group. "It's like the Toronto International Film Festival all over again. It's amazing."
Ms. Diop says Le Germain Hotel Mercer began taking bookings for the All-Star weekend last March. Restaurants, too, saw patrons making reservations for the weekend months in advance.
Tens of thousands of tourists are expected to flock to the city for the first NBA All-Star Game to take place outside of the United States. Toronto is expected to rake in between $90-million and $100-million from this basketball bonanza, according to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Sunday night's game at the Air Canada Centre features big names such as the Eastern Conference's LeBron James, Paul George, and Raptors teammates Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and the Western Conference's Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry. It'll also be the last chance for fans to see the Western Conference's Kobe Bryant play an All-Star Game, as the 37-year-old Los Angeles Lakers legend announced his retirement last November.
But it's not just basketball drawing tourists. Next weekend will be the prime time to spot celebrities in the city, with American comedian Kevin Hart and Grammy Award-winning Toronto native Drake coaching the celebrity basketball game Saturday, Sting headlining the halftime show and after-parties attracting stars such as Shaquille O'Neal, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Gwen Stefani and 2 Chainz.
Aria Ristorante owner Elena Morelli says she is "extremely busy" preparing her York Street restaurant, beside the Air Canada Centre and kitty-corner to Maple Leaf Square. Officials began visiting Aria last summer to scope it out for private parties and discuss security requirements, she says. While there are still a couple of tables free Saturday, Ms. Morelli says her restaurant is almost fully booked for that weekend, as are most in the area.
It's unlikely Toronto will see anything close to the $200-million (U.S.) New York made when it played host to the NBA All-Star Game last year. But excluding the Big Apple, host cities over the past five years have all generated somewhere around $96-million, with Los Angeles bringing in $85-million in 2011, Orlando $95-million in 2012, Houston just under $100-million in 2013 and New Orleans $106-million in 2014.
Even more important than the money is the chance for Toronto to be in the sporting event spotlight once again, says Andrew Weir, marketing director for Tourism Toronto.
"Events like this have a cumulative effect that builds Toronto's brand," Mr. Weir says. "It will change the way people think about Toronto so that they recognize the vibrancy of the city. It creates long-term appeal. We can't have enough of these events."
Last summer's Pan American and Parapan Games brought 16 days of tourist dollars, with spending in the city on international credit and debit cards 18.7 per cent higher than the same time in the year prior, according to a Moneris Solutions Corp. report. Fast-food sales jumped 22.4 per cent, dine-in restaurants by 3.62 per cent, bars and pubs by 2.36 per cent and hotel spending by 8.2 per cent.
And even without a big sporting event, cities throughout Canada have seen a surge in tourism over the past few months as Americans venture north of the border to take advantage of the low loonie, which hovers around 70 cents to the U.S. dollar.
"We've got to always be asking what's next [for sporting events in the city]," says Mr. Weir. "We always need to be exploring what event we should bid on next and how we can host that event better than anyone else has in the past."