Turning international tourists on to Ottawa

Elizabeth Howell
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National marketing program provides jolt to frozen local funding

Although he has only been in Ottawa a year, Philippe Kopcsan speaks enthusiastically about the benefits of culinary tourism to the capital - particularly with regard to Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa, where he is the general manager.

Philippe Kopcsan, general manager of Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

And when the Canadian Tourism Commission announced his cooking school would be among the attractions in the Signature Experience Collection, qualifying it for federal global marketing funds, he said he saw an opportunity to attract new international visitors, a demographic that's traditionally made up a relatively small share of tourists to Ottawa.

"They saw the potential for Canada to attract more tourists from China and India, as well as more students," he said.

"We have been working very hard on those fronts, and actually when I heard about the CTC campaign, I saw a lot of connections."

The Signature program, launched by the Canadian Tourism Commission last year, intends to get people past the abstract idea of visiting Canada by offering specific "experiences" to attract visitors.

In October, several Ottawa attractions were named to the CTC list for the first time, including Le Cordon Bleu, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery of Canada.

For Ottawa, which traditionally markets to the nearby centres of Toronto, Montreal and New York and has seen a fixed budget for several years of $7.5 million for lead marketing agency Ottawa Tourism, the CTC program provides an opportunity to get the capital's name into new markets.

The local tourism agency - solely funded through a destination marketing fee that used to be levied on Ottawa hotel rooms - has had its budget frozen since the fee disappeared with the implementation of the harmonized sales tax.

"The government continues to replace the amount of money (formerly collected through the DMF)," said Dick Brown, who leads the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

"But Ottawa hasn't had any increase in funding in the last three years."

The CTC did not have numbers available for how much the Signature initiative costs. The Crown corporation's overall budget for 2010 was $72 million, down from $98.7 million in 2001, according to the Hotel Association of Canada.

Key markets the CTC targets include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, the United States, Mexico, South Korea, India, China, Japan and Australia. It recently polled 30,000 people in those countries, using Environics Research, to find out what kind of experiences they want.

"We're one of the few countries in the world that is looking at its customers in a very, very deep way," said CTC spokesperson William Harding.

"You'll find many jurisdictions are content to know customers' demographics, income, credit cards in wallet. That doesn't give a lot of information to go on when building a multimillion-dollar international advertising campaign."

Ottawa Tourism does its international marketing almost solely through Ontario Tourism and the CTC, although the local agency does host international journalists eager to experience the capital.

Although exact local figures by country after 2009 are not available, anecdotally Ottawa Tourism has seen fewer visitors from the United States due to the economic downturn, and more from growing international markets such as China, said spokesperson Jantine Van Kregten.

But there are variables in the marketing; Mexican visitors dropped after the introduction of a mandatory visa, while China was a tough nut to crack until Canada became an "approved destination status" in the eyes of the Asian country.

"It's a tough road. Sometimes the barriers aren't always of your own making; you have to roll with it. Our destiny is not always our own," Ms. Van Kregten said.

The challenge is that while there are more countries to which to market, Ottawa Tourism is still operating on a fixed budget, she said. The agency remains hopeful that with the provincial election complete, an announcement will come soon about a replacement to the destination marketing fee.

"If (the DMF) was still in place today, we would have a larger budget," she said. "Let's develop those rules and figure out what it's going to be like."


The national capital saw more than 750,000 international visitors in 2009, the latest year covered by Statistics Canada. There were 385,047 United States visitors and 381,003 overseas visitors from the following countries:


Europe: 236,983

Asia: 66,675

South America: 16,383

Africa: 16,002

Mexico: 15,240

Australia: 12,954

Caribbean: 8,763


Country Visitors % monthly change

Australia 27,718 1.0

Brazil 9,264 8.4

China 35,772 28.6

France 71,983 1.1

Germany 50,625 -6.5

India 16,784 5.1

Japan 28,268 -9.0

Mexico 15,769 11.1

South Korea 16,707 -17.4

United Kingdom 89,154 -7.4

United States 1,673,484 -4.6

Source: Canadian Tourism Commission

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