10 Dec WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK
I have recently returned from a multi-national, whistle-stop tour of Niagara Falls and Toronto with the lovely peeps from Global DMC Partners and MCC Destination Management. The idea was to blow our minds on the sheer array of things to do in these destinations, as well as to showcase places to stay and ways of getting there. We were a group of about 20 from various countries – all with different remits in this wonderful industry –so the task in hand was a tough one. But all in all, it was achieved with aplomb.
Let’s start by how we got to Toronto – Air Canada of course; punctual, efficient and relatively comfortable – what else is there to say? Being east-coast, the city is more mid-haul and long-haul for most Europeans and North Americans, making it a real alternative to other metropolises that lie south of the border.
A few things really stuck out to me during our four days in Niagara Falls and Toronto. First, it was the variety of properties available to meeting planners. If you want uber-cool and trendy, tick – if you want large and conference-friendly, tick (and all things in between). At each of them, what struck me was the enthusiasm shown for the product, a “can-do” attitude, and an evident pride demonstrated by everyone. There was also a good degree of creativity displayed…from exceptional dining experiences to very personalised tours of the properties. We were made to feel special. There was a genuine feeling that they were all very much open to being different, whilst very much aware of what their strengths are.
I was also bowled over by the sheer selection of meeting space available, especially in Toronto. Yes, there are plenty of quirky venues as you would expect of a world city, but should you have a large event – like an exhibition— the two convention centres offer huge, flexible, and surprisingly modular spaces. Being the largest city in Canada also means that all event-based services are available to you, without the need to bring in your own. This is probably just as well seeing that most venues have a seemingly closed shop view on suppliers, each with their own preferred partners. The compact nature of the city means that you have thousands of rooms and extensive meetings space available to you within a small geographical area.
This versatility is not limited to Toronto alone, we were treated to the most impressive personalised ‘meet the supplier’ banquet whilst in Niagara at the Scotiabank Convention Centre. The show-around was impressive, and the fact that the coach was able to drive straight into the centre, rather than drop us at the curb, was downright genius and the paired food and wine experience was sublime.
A genuinely different aspect of this region, when compared to other places I have been to in North America, was the absolute reverence and pride shown for the food and beverage offerings. There was a consistent message everywhere that the food and drink movement is very much about local, fewer food miles, best produce, and seasonality. As a European, I thought this was impressive, and it felt natural and holistic.
The itinerary was a four-day giggle-fest which started off at the Niagara Falls Marriott Fallsview. The clever folks at Marriott made sure they bagged the best spot for views of the falls – they were simply to die for. ALL rooms had panoramic windows with comfy chairs in order to watch nature do its thing of chucking serious amounts of water over various cliffs. Just awesome. At night, when nature is given a hand by means of a multi-coloured light display, I doubt there is any better place to stay and watch the falls than from the comfort of your hotel room.
We got very wet on the Hornblower Cruise which took us right under the falls. We went over the falls in a barrel (ok, that’s a bit of a fib), but we did zip-line right next to it! This was an exhilarating way to “enjoy” (or, get the fright of your life) at the falls.
We travelled to three (yup, three…in an hour!) wineries, en-route to Toronto in Niagara-on-the-Lake. These were all classy, fabulous and surprisingly varied in offerings – both the wine and things to do. Clearly, we partook in an adult beverage or two, and ice wine in an ice cave was particularly special – as was sipping a glass of bubbles in the most kitsch-themed bath. A perfect way to break the journey by road to Toronto.
With around seven Marriott hotels to choose from, we were hosted at their City Centre hotel. Perfect location for catching a game, staging a conference, or accessing some of the city’s best attractions. Large, well-appointed rooms, and for such a busy place, the front desk was hosted by efficient, polite and generally very nice staff.
Toronto itself is vibrant, fun, and modern. Twists and turns everywhere, from sexy boutique hotels, to venues like the Art Gallery of Ontario, the waterside, Hockey Hall of Fame, CN tower, and the historic Distillery District which had excellent places to host big or small events / dinners / lunches / shopping. Special mention to Gloria who guided our city tour, this young-at-heart lady killed it with her humour and sense of fun, it was great to see that there are characters in this industry still so enthusiastic about their work.
The things that stuck in my mind about Toronto can be summed up in a few words: Clean, Polite, Humorous, Fun, Sassy, Efficient and Fabulous F&B.
All in all, a genuinely wonderful trip – our hosts all deserve a place in the Hall of Fame, they showcased enough highlights to make me want to experience more. A city and region for all seasons.