How Ottawa markets itself to the world

Mark Brownlee
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Each year, thousands of tourists come to the National Capital Region to take in a festival, peruse one of the area’s landmarks or attend a convention for work.

Fireworks at the opening ceremony of Winterlude in 2012.

But those people don’t just end up here – attracting visitors requires huge marketing efforts. Here’s how three of the city’s major tourism players go about attracting travellers.


The festival’s target market is dictated largely by its programming, which is organized for kids of all ages and directed towards families. That’s why Winterlude devotes the lion’s share of its marketing to attracting women between the ages of 25 and 54 – the thinking being that getting their attention will make it easier to attract the rest of the family.

“Females have a strong impact on how the family will invest its time in terms of holidays,” said Daniel Feeny, director of marketing and partnerships for the festival’s organizer, the National Capital Commission. This plays a major role in how it goes about trying to attract visitors. In its print advertising, for example, it tries to emphasize photographs of families taking part in Winterlude events.

Geographically, the festival focuses on the corridor between Windsor and Quebec City, although it recently received federal funding to target would-be visitors from the United States.


As with most other organizations, Ottawa Tourism is moving away from older forms of advertising such as newspapers.

“While traditional media is still very important … there is more and more a shift that is happening so that a larger percentage of our budget is now moving over to digital and social,” said Karen Squires, Ottawa Tourism’s executive director of marketing.

While the agency – which receives funding from area hoteliers – still spends money on “traditional” media such as magazines, radio and TV, online advertising such as banner ads is increasingly taking up a bigger percentage of the yearly budget. The organization invested more resources into its website in the past few years and also places significant emphasis on social media such as Facebook and Pinterest.

The overall decline of print advertising has forced many organizations to look at new ways of reaching audiences, but Ottawa Tourism is trying to embrace the new opportunities. Twitter, for example, allows the organization to broadcast photos visitors have taken of the city.

“I love the opportunity that social media presents in terms of travellers sharing their actual experiences in real time with other potential travellers,” said Jantine Van Kregten, Ottawa Tourism’s director of communications.

Most of its print advertising appears in publications serving the Greater Toronto Area and the broader Golden Horseshoe region around Lake Ontario. It also works with the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership to purchase print and digital ads targeting New York, Boston and Chicago.


The city’s largest downtown meeting space goes about attracting visitors differently from other tourism attractions in the city, largely because it targets associations and meeting groups rather than individual visitors.

The Ottawa Convention Centre ends up spending a significant amount of time trying to seek out groups that might be interested in holding events in Ottawa, said Daniel Coates, the organization’s manager of marketing and communications.

“We do a lot of research on associations and where they’re meeting, then send out specialized invitations – mainly through direct marketing – that they should meet in Ottawa for this reason and this reason,” he said.

This means going to events where meeting planners congregate, connecting with industry groups such as Meeting Professionals International and placing ads in niche publications such as industry magazines. The facility tries to go after organizations that would be particularly interested in Ottawa, he said. By way of example, Mr. Coates pointed to the BirdLife International World Congress, which met in Ottawa this June because of the area’s reputation for wildlife.

Organizations: Ottawa Tourism, National Capital Commission, Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Ottawa Convention Centre Meeting Professionals International BirdLife International World Congress

Geographic location: Ottawa, Windsor, Quebec City United States Greater Toronto Area Lake Ontario New York Boston Chicago

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