‘Rebuild the vibrancy’: Delight, joy as Toronto tourist attractions reopen

After months of lockdown, popular Toronto attractions like Ripley’s Aquarium, the CN Tower, and the Toronto Zoo have reopened their doors to the public — at reduced capacity.

Through pre-booking, people are now able to ride the conveyor belt under the sharks and stingrays at the aquarium and get a peek at the zoo’s months-old tiger cub whose name is expected to be announced this coming Thursday. (The public has been allowed to vote from a list of four names: Alina, Lena, Maya and Mila.)

“This is a great place to come,” Mayor John Tory said on Saturday, shortly after visiting with the cub.

Tory reiterated that boosting vaccination rates is key to increasing capacity limits, but said he was “thrilled” just to see people back at the zoo.

“We want the whole region to be healthy, we want people to feel better,” he said, and then — hopefully — the city will “be back to something pretty close to normal.”

Mazyria, an Amur tiger, gave birth to three cubs on Friday, April 30, 2021 after a 104-day pregnancy. This is an image taken from a video on YouTube uploaded by the Toronto Zoo after the birth. Just one cub is still alive from the litter, the Toronto Zoo has reported. (YouTube)

The possibility of a new normal enthused employees at Ripley’s Aquarium, who’ve spent months taking care of the aquarium’s many residents without being able to see the joy and curiosity of spectators. 

“The thrill and the buzz and the excitement around the building the last week…it’s been great,” said Peter Doyle, general manager at Ripley’s. “We are very excited.”

This week marks the first week since November in which the aquarium has welcomed guests, he said.

Doyle added that the aquarium is continuing with its virtual education programs, but is looking forward to in-person restrictions loosening even further as a substantial amount of the aquarium’s visitors typically come from the United States.

The reopening of these types of attractions is “a necessary first start,” said Andrew Weir, executive vice president of Destination Toronto. And as promising as it is to see so many patios filled with people, he said that’s just the “more visible part” of the city’s pandemic recovery.

In pre-pandemic times, the city averaged around 27 million visitors per year, he said, thanks to a diversified tourism economy that includes both leisure and business, weekdays and weekends, as well as all four seasons.

“Having a diversified base of visitors is important,” he said, but “it starts with us as residents getting out and enjoying our city.”

CN Tower pictured on June 21, 2016. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Weir recommended Torontonians not only enjoy the city, but also that they make no secret of their renewed enjoyment via social media.

“That’s how we rebuild the vibrancy,” he said. “We have the power here of six million destination marketers.”

However, Weir also cautioned that the road to recovery for a city like Toronto will be long given that many of the drivers of tourism — business meetings, conventions and the like — are not yet back up and running.

“In the coming months we need to establish the foundation for living and functioning a visitor economy with COVID as part of our lives,” he said. “We know it won’t go away.”

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