Out-of-town Convention Centre guests fall short of forecast

Peter Kovessy
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The Ottawa Convention Centre is attracting fewer out-of-town guests than what tourism officials predicted in 2007 when they were looking for support to redevelop the old Congress Centre.

The Ottawa Convention Centre

At the time, a market feasibility study forecasted a new conference facility would bring in 113,010 visitors annually. However, an economic impact study commissioned by the OCC and conducted by Ipsos Reid found the facility attracted 54,400 out-of-town guests last year.

It’s not a complete picture, as the Ipsos Reid study only looked at those conventions and tradeshows that drew at least 25 per cent of participants from outside the Ottawa-Gatineau area. That worked out to 57 of the approximately 560 events held at the OCC last year.

Daniel Coates, the OCC’s manager of marketing and communications, concedes the prediction of 113,010 visitors may have been “a little overly ambitious,” but notes that the 2007 study was conducted in a stronger economic climate.

A protectionist sentiment south of the border means many U.S. organizations are trying to keep their business in their home country, says Mr. Coates. That has the OCC reaching out to emerging markets such as China and India, but he says the long travel distances can make Canada a difficult sell.

Mr. Coates says the OCC has performed favourably relative to the facility’s internal sales targets in the two years since its opening.

The Ipsos Reid study concluded it created $101 million in direct spending for the Ottawa economy.

This includes $78 million in spending from attendees, $16 million in spending from exhibitors and $7 million in production-related costs.

The study shows the landmark facility, with its large glass facade overlooking the Rideau Canal, attracted more than 47,000 delegates during the year.

About 5,900 staff members representing more than 1,500 exhibitors from out of town also attended events, such as the NHL All-Star Weekend and the Liberal Biennial Convention in January 2012.

Mr. Coates says the study was commissioned to “show there is a major and direct positive impact to the city of Ottawa and the industries that (the OCC) supports.”

Tourism officials say the new convention centre, since opening in April 2011, has given the city the chance to play a bigger role in the lucrative meeting marketplace.

Research on the subject, including reports from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, shows meeting attendees regularly spend more money when visiting a city than pleasure tourists.

In this year’s federal budget, the Conservative government pledged to reduce departmental spending on public service travel by five per cent, or $42.7 million, on an ongoing basis. That’s on top of cost containment measures related to government travel expenses contained in earlier budgets.

There’s been some debate within the city’s tourism industry about the local impact of these measures.

While some say it is bound to negatively affect the city’s government-dominated economy, others believe the cuts will disportionately affect government conferences held elsewhere in the country and that demand for meeting space in the nation’s capital will remain relatively constant.

The federal government, Mr. Coates says, “is not doing as many small meetings as they used to, but they are still doing them. There seems to be some signs of positive growth.”

Looking ahead, some of the major events coming to the OCC later this year include Birdlife International World Congress in June as well as the first Joint Assembly of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is expected to attract 1,000 delegates to Ottawa in July.

Organizations: OCC, Ipsos Reid, Convention Centre NHL All-Star Weekend Liberal Biennial Convention Tourism Industry Association of Canada Birdlife International World Congress Joint Assembly of the Anglican Church of Canada Evangelical Lutheran Church

Geographic location: Ottawa, Gatineau, U.S. China India Canada Rideau Canal

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Recent comments

  • James
    September 12, 2013 - 13:54

    Where do people hold business conferences typically in Ottawa when they visit? I am looking for one. James | http://www.suitedreams.com/default.aspx?pg=meetings_overview