Renee Arnold often travels to far-off locales on business, but there is only one city, other than her own, that makes her feel at home.
“Rarely does a week go by when I’m not in Toronto,” said the Hogland, Indiana-based financial executive. “It’s very much like Chicago.”
Canada’s largest city has a similar energy and culture to the Windy City, she said, and while it’s a hotbed of business during the day, it’s easy to feel relaxed there at night.
Arnold, who lives 30 minutes from Chicago, but is Aberdeen Asset Management’s head of business development for Canada, loves to sit at one of the many outdoor restaurants on the Harbourfront, the southern most point of the city, have a glass of wine and watch boats traverse Lake Ontario, the smallest of North America’s five great lakes.
“It’s a very versatile city and the Harbourfront is especially cool,” she said.
Toronto is one of Canada’s two main business centres — Calgary is the other — and while every industry has a presence in the city, financial, life sciences, information and communication technology and professional services make up the bulk of the city’s economy.
If you work in one of these sectors, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll find yourself doing business in the city.
It’s hard to find anyone that would say they love flying into Toronto Pearson International Airport.
While it has plenty of good amenities (there is a Burberry and a Coach store and many places to eat or grab coffee) it’s located in Mississauga, a 40-minute or longer drive to Bay St and King St, the heart of the city’s business district.
If you can manage, do not check luggage when you do fly into Toronto, as it can take 20 to 30 minutes to get your bags.
“It’s so slow,” said Erin Dermer, the Vancouver-based director of media relations and social media for TELUS, one of Canada’s main telecom companies. “I’m always carrying my bags.”
Taking a taxi or limo from the airport to downtown Toronto will cost $53 or $58, respectively, not including tip of 10% to 15%. Be sure to leave plenty of time to get back to the airport when your business trip ends, as traffic can be unpredictable. Dermer said she usually leaves downtown two hours before a flight.
There is another option for some travellers but only if they are flying from certain US or Canadian locales: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. It’s located on Toronto Island, which is just minutes away from downtown. It doesn’t cost any more to fly into this airport, but you will save time if your final destination is downtown.
From Billy Bishop you’ll need to take a 90-second ferry ride to get into the city, and most business travellers can be off the plane and at a meeting in less than 30 minutes.
The downside is that Porter Airlines, that airport’s main airline, only services 17 cities in Canada and the US.
Foreign travellers will have no problem exchanging money. There are banks everywhere, especially downtown. There are also numerous ATM machines that spit out Canadian bills. Any globally accepted debit and credit cards should work at any restaurant or store.
A room at the Fairmont Royal York, one of the more popular businesses hotels, for instance, goes for between CAD$200 and $1,100 ($182 and $1,003) per night, depending on whether you want a standard room or the executive suite.
Toronto is known as a hotbed of multiculturalism. It’s been estimated that more than 150 languages are spoken in the city and while there are specific cultural areas — Little Italy, Little India, Chinatown, Koreatown — the city has been heralded as one of the world’s more integrated around the world.
Expect to find every type of food from every corner of the globe, said Tristan Lockie, a former Londoner who moved to Toronto four years ago to become managing director of MeritBiz, a corporate travel company.
The business culture is more social than in some other big centres, added Arnold. People are less concerned with being the biggest player on the block and more focused on building long-lasting relationships.
“It’s a social place,” she says. “I have more friends in Toronto than I do back home.”
Business travellers have plenty of hotels to choose from, but where someone stays will likely depend on where they’re meeting people and the time of year. Arnold’s Toronto office is located at Bay St. and Front St, so when she comes in the winter she stays at the nearby Fairmont Royal York.
While she likes the early 20th century feel of the 85-year-old upscale hotel, she also likes the fact she can walk to her office in four minutes without ever going outside. That’s because the hotel — and many others — is connected to various offices by a large underground walkway called PATH. While you can eat and shop beneath the city’s downtown core, the main reason to stay close to this 30-kilometer walkway is to avoid the cold Canadian climate in winter, when daily temperatures can average as low as minus 8C.
In the summer, Arnold stays at the Four Seasons, a 55-story luxury hotel that has a 13-metre pool and a 3,500 square foot fitness centre, in part because she likes the 30-minute walk down Bay St.
While there are many upscale chains like the Fairmont and Four Seasons, the city also has several posh boutique hotels. Dermer likes to stay at Hotel Le Germain. It’s a cozy hotel with excellent service, she said, though the rooms, which range in price from $285 to $1400, can book up quickly.
Dinner for one
There’s no shortage of places for post-work eats and drinks. If you want to stay close to the business district, Arnold recommends Far Niente, which serves chicken, duck, fish and steak and has a business casual vibe. Entrées range from $17 to $42.
If you want to venture slightly further afield, visit Yorkville, which is an eight-minute cab ride north from the financial district. This is one of the trendiest and most upscale areas of the city; it’s where you’ll find movie stars during the annual Toronto International Film Festival.
Lockie tells clients to eat at Yorkville’s The Oxley Public House, a colourful classic British-style pub. Lamb, rabbit, duck and steak are on the menu here and entrees cost between $23 and $59.
Many of the hotels also have great restaurants and bars. Arnold is particularly fond of the Royal York’s EPIC Lounge, where she often strikes up a conversation with fellow solo travellers.
Off the clock
If you have time to unwind, walk along Queen West, which has a number of art galleries and bars or shop on Bloor St near Yorkville. You’ll find numerous luxury stores, such as Prada, Hermes and Holt Renfrew, Canada’s version of Saks Fifth Avenue.
If you’re a museum fan, Lockie suggest visiting the Royal Ontario Museum and the unusual Bata Shoe Museum, which takes people through the history of shoes. One highlight: footwear worn by famous people throughout the ages, including Napoleon Bonaparte's black socks and John Lennon's Beatles-era ankle boots.
“It blows people away,” he said.
If possible, plan a trip around one of the city’s many big events.
There’s the Toronto International Film Festival in early September; the popular Toronto Fashion Week in October and Canadian Music Week, a big five-day downtown music festival in March.
Hockey is also huge in the city and many business deals get done at Toronto Maple Leaf games, which happen downtown at the Air Canada Centre.
Have you ever done business at a hockey game? What are the best places for Toronto business travellers? To share your experience or comment on this story, please head on over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
This story has been corrected to remove an incorrect reference to loonies and toonies.