Skip to content

BEYOND LOCAL: World Cup to boost Toronto, Vancouver tourism, but how much is unclear

The City of Toronto said the event is expected to create 3,585 jobs and draw more than 300,000 visitors, and that Canada should see a $1.2-billion boost to its GDP from the Vancouver and Toronto games combined
Fans of Argentina sit on Doha corniche, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. Toronto and Vancouver are set to get a tourism boost from the World Cup, but one expert warns to be wary of rosy projections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Andre Penner

Toronto and Vancouver are set to get a tourism boost from the World Cup, but experts say fans and planners alike should be wary of overly rosy projections. 

FIFA announced on Sunday the two cities will host a combined total of 13 games, including Toronto hosting Canada's first ever men's World Cup match. 

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said in a statement she was "thrilled" to see the city chosen for six matches, while Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said on X that he was "stoked" the city would host seven "epic" matches. 

The City of Toronto said the event is expected to create 3,585 jobs and draw more than 300,000 visitors, and that Canada should see a $1.2-billion boost to its GDP from the Vancouver and Toronto games combined. 

The economic boost includes $393 million in GDP for Toronto, up almost 30 per cent from what the city said back in mid-2022, while it said Ontario should see an additional boost of $456 million. 

However, the hit to taxpayers will also run high, with 2022 estimates of about $300 million for Toronto and $250 mullion for Vancouver.

Neither city has released an updated cost estimate. 

When Toronto first pitched the games in 2018, a city report estimated the cost at between $30 million and $45 million.

The expected boost to the economy also doesn't factor in the tourists who would already be filling up hotels and restaurants during the busy summer season, said Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in economics at Concordia University in Montreal.

"They're already filled during the summer with tourists, and the hotels are already full and the bars and restaurants are already full," said Lander, who studies sports economics.

If soccer-loving tourists simply displace regular tourists, the economic benefit is substantially lower, he said.

There are certainly reasons to be skeptical of the projected numbers, said Marion Joppe, professor emeritus at the University of Guelph's School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management.

"You have to think in positives and negatives around events like this, whereas official numbers very often just give you the positives, right?"

She also said the tourism sector would already be in high demand during the summer, so the numbers don't tell the full picture.

The attention that the games bring can lead to a long-term increase in tourism, and a general boost to a region's profile. It's part of the reason Qatar spent what's thought to be well over $200 billion on hosting the last World Cup. 

British Columbia is also betting on a longer-term boost, with Destination BC projecting that the tournament could generate $1 billion for the province's tourism sector, when both the games and the five years after are factored in.

But Lander questions how much of a profile boost Toronto or Vancouver could actually get from hosting the games, given their multicultural global makeup and having already hosted major international sporting events. 

"There is almost no way that people don't know what Toronto is, and Vancouver, of course, is in a very similar situation," said Lander.

Joppe is also skeptical of how much it will boost Canada's profile, with the three-country format not helping.

"Yes, it'll do a little bit for Canada, but because it's being played in the three countries, it's marginal," she said. "Will it generate future tourism? Maybe; maybe not."

There is still room to boost perceptions of Canada, said Aarij Wasti, a partner at Gowling WLG in Toronto, who previously spent more than 14 years working on the Qatar World Cup.

"Canada has a very positive image and reputation but where it lacks is, it's not seen as cutting-edge, it's not seen as leading the way," said Wasti.

"Here is a genuine opportunity to position our country on an international stage ... to further grow tourism and tourism opportunities."

He said that Canada could look at the tournament as spending, or as an investment in the future, with the potential to build on these events with more as the sporting economy globally keeps growing.

And while government projections have their flaws, the results of some past events do show promise.

A report from Canada Soccer found the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 and the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2014 supported $493.6 million in economic activity for Canada, higher than the projections of $337 million.

The initial costs for both competitions totalled $216 million, generating $249 million in net GDP with $97.6 million in tax revenues supported across the country, according to the report.

Lander said similarly that given Toronto and Vancouver's existing infrastructure, they should come out ahead economically, but the taxpayer likely won't.

However, B.C. has taken steps to minimize public costs, especially through a temporary 2.5-per-cent tax on short-term accommodations that started in Feb. 2023 and could generate about $230 million over seven years.

In Toronto, Mayor Chow said the city will be keeping a close eye on spending.

"I have former councillor budget chief David Soknacki looking at the books to make sure that every penny, every dollar is spent properly and the games are coming," said Chow.

"I look forward to all the business improvement areas, all the local residents, all coming together, joining in the celebration through the fan fests through the games and can't wait for it to happen."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.

Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect year for when cost estimates were released.