Turning 150 in the capital

Mark Brownlee
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For the city’s tourism sector, Canada’s 150th anniversary is a huge opportunity – not just in 2017, but in the years leading up to it.

Industry officials are already starting to plan marquee events they hope will attract tourists wanting to bask in the glow of the capital during Canada’s big year.

Quietly, though, they are targeting a group that contributes exponentially more money to the local economy than the average map-holding visitor snapping pictures of the Peace Tower: meeting and convention planners.

“What we’re trying to tell them is, ‘Hey, 2017 isn’t the only year that we’re open for business. How about doing 2016 here as well, or 2018?” said Ottawa city councillor Rainer Bloess. “In other words, get extra bang for our buck.”

Mr. Bloess is part of a committee comprised of major local tourism players – including Ottawa Tourism, Ottawa Festivals and the Ottawa Senators – co-ordinating plans for 2017.

The group has decided to focus on convention-goers, based on the fact that the average business visitor to Canada spends about $1,062 per trip, according to a fall 2012 report from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. That’s roughly 25 per cent more than what leisure visitors spend.

One of the group’s first initiatives, according to Mr. Bloess, was to send a promotional package containing details about the Ottawa Convention Centre and other local facilities to approximately 1,000 event planners, tour organizers and other tourism industry professionals.

“The more conventions, the more the tourism industry as a whole benefits,” said Daniel Laliberté, general manager of the Ottawa Marriott. “That’s why there will be a big emphasis on getting more conventions in the city.”

However, that doesn’t mean all the focus can just be on meetings and conferences. Tourism organizers will need to make sure there is enough buzz from holding plenty of high-profile events.

Most years, Canada Day celebrations are limited to July 1, but officials are hoping to hold events throughout 2017, from January right through to December.

The group has discussed bringing an outdoor National Hockey League game to the city sometime during the year, said Mr. Laliberté. Its members are also looking at an expanded version of the annual Winterlude festival in February.

“We have the business of our meeting that has to get done, but you want to create excitement, you want people to come and enjoy the city that they’re (visiting),” said Lira Buschman, president of the Ottawa chapter of Meeting Planners International. “They do have their down time and their free time, so you want to make sure there’s things for them.”

But while a lot of effort has been placed on making the city a destination for Canada’s anniversary, many businesses say it’s still too early to start making plans for 2017 or the years that surround it.

Grace Vale of Ottawa conference planning firm Venues said she doesn’t think she’ll have a good sense for what 2017 means until next spring.

Mr. Laliberté of the Marriott said he is trying to get more people into the city first. Seeing how his business can capitalize on that will follow, he said.

SIDEBAR: 2017 legacy

Tourism officials are concentrating their efforts on making 2017 a banner year for the city of Ottawa. But what will be the impact in the years that follow?

That will depend on the infrastructure that governments leave behind, according to Daniel Laliberté, general manager of the Ottawa Marriott.

He cited as an example the work the federal government spent on Quebec City in the lead-up to its 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008. Millions of dollars went into redoing several ports in the city, leaving behind a “legacy” for the tourism industry there.

Moving the Canada Science and Technology Museum, currently located in an industrial area off St. Laurent Boulevard, to LeBreton Flats or elsewhere downtown is one possibility he discussed. Having a new casino in Ottawa would also make a difference, he said.

City officials are already looking at partnering with the federal government on legacy infrastructure projects, according to councillor Rainer Bloess.

He pointed to Mayor Jim Watson’s idea for a “Canada House” as one possibility.

Mr. Watson has asked the federal government to help turn the old U.S. embassy on Wellington Street into a shrine for Canadian artifacts such as Celine Dion’s first gold record.

Organizations: Ottawa Senators, Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Ottawa Convention Centre National Hockey League Canada Science and Technology Museum Canada House

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Quebec City U.S. Wellington Street

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