Toronto shooting won’t deter visitors, but will spark festival safety discussions

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TORONTO — About twenty-four hours after a shooting left two dead and a dozen injured in Toronto’s bustling Danforth neighbourhood, scores of pedestrians strolled the area, dined on restaurant patios and stopped in at mom-and-pop shops.

While they were still grieving the tragedy that had hit the night before, the community was eager not to let the shooting keep them from an area they love — and experts said in the long run, it likely won’t deter tourists either.

Cultural, tourism and business groups told The Canadian Press that Toronto’s reputation for being a welcoming city and the unexpected nature of the shooting mean visitors are unlikely to change their travel plans or avoid events in the city or the neighbourhood at the heart of the city’s Greek town.

“I don’t think people will change travel plans. They are looking at this as an unfortunate one-off tragedy,” said Gabor Forgacs, a Ryerson University professor specializing in hospitality and tourism. “I don’t see people cancelling reservations for this, but definitely people will be more alert regarding their surroundings and people will welcome reassurance if they see police presence.”

Howard Lichtman, a spokesperson for GreekTown on the Danforth Business Improvement Area, agreed that the shooting wouldn’t deter people because he said most large cities face gun violence and the Danforth wasn’t targeted, it just ended up experiencing “some of the collateral damage.”

The shooting came as Lichtman and his fellow organizers prepared to host the 25th anniversary of Taste of the Danforth, a celebration of Greek food, entertainment and culture, which he said brings 1.5 million people to the area and $100 million to the city and province annually.

Despite the incident, he expects the event will still be “bigger and better than ever before,” but said he and the other organizers were primarily focused right now on the community, which he said is planning a vigil, chalking the sidewalks and nearby fountains with condolences and laying flowers at a memorial along the street.

Though many shops had yet to re-open since the shooting, Lichtman said he hadn’t heard of any businesses enhancing security, but such measures were already on the minds of organizers behind two of Toronto’s big, summer tourism draws — the Canadian National Exhibition in August and the Toronto International Film Festival in early September.

“We have been working on security and increasing it over the last couple of years just in response to world events and we will be increasing it even more this year — some of it you’ll see, some of it you definitely won’t see. But we’re doing everything we can to make it safe for everyone attending the festival,” said TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey, noting that last year the festival used road barricades and bag searches to maintain safety.

Bailey said the shooting “is still very fresh for all of us,” but the annual festival that brings throngs of celebrities and film lovers to the city is determined to go on.

“Toronto is a strong city, Toronto is an open city and I think we will be a part of maintaining that,” he said. “People look forward in this city to the festival every September. We’re going to deliver a great festival for them.”

The CNE, which also extended its sympathies in the wake of shooting, said in a statement that it continuously dedicates “significant resources toward security protocols and a robust safety plan” that is based on risk-assessment and mitigation. It said it will secure its perimeter and grounds and monitor the festival grounds closely with law enforcement. Like TIFF, it vowed to continue to welcome and embrace visitors.

Tourism Toronto’s Andrew Weir said it can be hard to calculate what kind of impact the shooting will have on such events or the city, especially this soon after it occurred and when there is still so much unknown about the motivations behind it.

Tracking perceptions of a city can be difficult, he said, but Toronto has long had a reputation for being safe.

“It is hard to know what is going to happen days or weeks from now, but what I know of Toronto is that people will respond by coming together and that will be expressed in a number ways or places, but some of the upcoming festivals might be where we see that in a significant way.”

With a file from Victoria Ahearn.

 

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press