The City of Gatineau is standing behind a new initiative to spend $135 million on attracting new visitors to the city.
The centrepiece of the proposal, called Destination Gatineau, involves installing a walkway from the Chaudière Crossing in the western edge of the city’s core to the Lady Aberdeen Bridge in the east.
“Most of the cities in North America are redeveloping their waterfronts and giving access to their tourists,” said Claude Hamelin, the general manager of Destination Gatineau and the president and producer of the Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light fireworks event.
“The river is probably the main element that links our region and we really don’t have any access to it,” he added.
The problem, as tourism officials see it, is that many visitors arrive in downtown Gatineau to go to the Canadian Museum of Civilization (soon to be renamed the Museum of History) and then leave without taking in anything else the city has to offer.
“We want to keep those visitors (in our city) longer,” said Marc Bureau, the mayor of the City of Gatineau.
Mr. Hamelin said he believes the prospect of getting to another part of the city by strolling along the river will be enough of an incentive to convince visitors to either go to a restaurant downtown, or take in another tourist attraction such as the casino.
Officials don’t just want to keep visitors that already come to Gatineau, though. A major part of the proposal calls for bringing in new tourists who wouldn’t have otherwise come to the National Capital Region.
Mr. Hamelin doesn’t see the project as an attempt to ratchet up competition with Ottawa for tourism dollars. Instead, he thinks the opportunity to take in the Ottawa River will attract visitors who will ultimately visit both cities.
The City of Gatineau hopes to more than double the number of annual visitors to five million by 2019, up from the current number of about two million it sees each year. Mr. Hamelin estimated that about half of the increase will come from brand new tourists.
“It’s quite clear that this kind of project would increase the interest for the capital region,” said Mr. Hamelin.
Who exactly is going to pay for the project is still up in the air, though. The group is counting on funding from municipal, provincial and federal governments.
But Mr. Bureau said he’s confident the money will come through. He’s already seen “a lot” of interest from the governments and the private sector.
He said the city anticipates it will have to add another 1,000 hotel rooms to deal with the increased demand.