by Leo Valiquette
“A key job for a mayor is to show this kind of leadership initiative,” said Mr. Durrell, a former mayor of Ottawa and now sitting chair of the Ottawa Convention Centre. “We’re in competition with other countries, with other cities within Canada. When you’re stuck between two cities like Montreal and Toronto, you have to compete even harder.”
A recent trip to Spain reaffirmed for Mr. Durrell just how important a robust tourism sector can be to a local or regional economy.
“The multiplier effect is enormous,” he said, in terms of the impact that full hotels have on local bars, restaurants, culture venues and service industries that are supported by hospitality and tourism.
Eighty per cent of Canada’s tourism industry remains driven by domestic tourists, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission. While this is a rich and valued customer base, it is limited, especially compared to a market such as China, which expects to have 100 million outbound tourists heading to international destinations by 2020.
According to the World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals are growing by around five per cent. However, Canada’s share of that market is in decline.
Rankings from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada put Canada seventh in the world in 2002 with 20.1 million international tourist arrivals. By the end of 2009, that number had fallen to 15.8 million, leaving Canada in 15th place.
Not only is this a crucial issue for Canada as a whole, but for Ottawa in particular at a time when the city lies under the threat of federal budget cuts and as its technology sector remains challenged to find its footing.
Erin Kelly, executive director of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, took the city to task recently for putting too much emphasis on the local technology sector and failing to put sufficient resources behind the tourism industry.
“Tourism is one of our biggest industries, but the city doesn’t invest in it at all,” Ms. Kelly told OBJ in late April, emphasizing that Ottawa must focus on bringing in more tourism dollars from outside the city.
The mission builds on the Sister Cities partnership Mr. Watson signed with Beijing when he was mayor of Ottawa prior to amalgamation. But, more importantly, the mission is intended to take advantage of the “approved destination status” Canada earned from the Chinese government 18 months ago, which allows Chinese travel agents to market Canada as a vacation spot.
The challenge for Ottawa, said Dick Brown, executive director of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, is it’s faced with a chicken-or-egg scenario. Having direct flights is crucial to profiting from that flood of Chinese tourists, but a certain volume of tourists is first required before an airline will consider a direct flight financially feasible.
“Having the mayor building on the formal twinned relationship with Beijing will improve the chances of those early tourists out of China putting Ottawa on their itinerary, and if they have a positive experience ... that’s how you build a business,” Mr. Brown said.
The city’s goal is to increase the volume of Chinese visitors by about 55 per cent over the next few years, to around 25,000 people, to encourage an airline to launch direct flights from Ottawa.
Mr. Brown acknowledged it will have to be a steady and incremental process, which may first begin with charter flights.
“You don’t open a market overnight. You have to build a relationship,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Brown is optimistic that Ottawa can reap substantial rewards if it takes the initiative to build its brand on the international scene.
“We have a lot of recent momentum,” he said. “I think we’re really poised to take it to the next level and go beyond just incremental growth.”
Local delegates will attend the Beijing International Tourism Festival from June 15 to 19, with representation from:
- Delta Hotel
- Lord Elgin Hotel
- Ottawa Convention Centre
- Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association
- Ottawa International Airport
- Ottawa Tourism
- Westin Hotel