Tourism officials maintain ‘positive’ outlook leading up to Canada’s 150th in 2017

Adam Feibel
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Ottawa’s tourism industry leaders say they’re “fairly positive” about what’s to come for the sector in 2015 – even though their big focus is two years down the road.

Ottawa Tourism director of communications Jantine Van Kregten

While the capital prepares for Canada’s 150th birthday bash in 2017, there’s plenty happening around town leading up to the big celebration, says Ottawa Tourism’s director of communications.

“We’re looking fairly positive for 2015,” says Jantine Van Kregten. “Of course we’re building to the crescendo that is 2017 … but we still have to do our work because we want people to come in 2015 and 2016 as well.”

New attractions this year are expected to draw domestic and international attention, such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Tulip Festival’s unveiling of a new monument to the Netherlands, and the Canadian Museum of History’s anniversary exhibitions dedicated to Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope and the signing of the Magna Carta.

The Canadian tourism industry as a whole is “performing well, except against inflation,” according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s annual report for 2014. International tourism to Canada is on the rise, with a 1.5 per cent increase in visitors for 2013 compared with 2012, according to the World Tourism Organization, but TIAC says Canada should be growing its sector more rapidly to match the global annual rate of five per cent.

The capital itself should expect modest tourism growth in 2015, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Its year-end report predicted a 1.4 per cent increase in visits, with the main source of growth coming from emerging markets such as China, India and Mexico, as well as more U.S. tourists expected than in 2014.

Still, more than 80 per cent of visitors to Ottawa come from other parts of Canada, a fact not lost on local tourism officials.

“We’re interested in both sectors,” says Ms. Van Kregten. “We don’t want to lose market share in terms of our core visitation from the Toronto area and the Montreal area … We’re very top of mind in those markets.”

In 2014, the city saw a “fairly marked increase” in leisure traffic and local hotels had “modest” gains in occupancy, says Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association. He says the industry has experienced a positive bump from the recent reinstatement of the destination marketing fee, which sees three per cent of participating hotels’ room fee revenues levied to Ottawa Tourism.

“We measure and monitor this very carefully and we’re seeing direct results from this, and it’s an important part of our future success,” says Mr. Ball.

The sector took a hit to its room inventory with several recent hotel closures, including the Holiday Inn on Cooper Street, the Quality Inn on Rideau Street and the Minto Suite Hotel. Mr. Ball says others have picked up the slack, but the OGHA still looks forward to new properties taking their place.

The association will also take a deeper look at consumer behaviours and “disruptive technology” in the industry amid a revival of the sharing economy driven by the likes of Airbnb, he says.

The San Francisco-based lodging rental website reported a 125 per cent increase in guests staying in Canada in 2014, according to the Financial Post. The company, which opened its first Canadian office in Toronto this fall, has sparked concerns among some regulatory authorities over tax and permit requirements.

Mr. Ball says for the OGHA, it’s about making sure hotels don’t suffer unfairly in comparison to renters whose use of Airbnb frees them of many of the hotel industry’s constraints and responsibilities.

“It’s important that the playing field is level so that members of my organization … aren’t put at a disadvantage to the new sharing economy that has none of those obligations,” he says.

Another potential setback for Ottawa’s tourism sector in the next little while is construction, says Ms. Van Kregten. Several major renovation projects are scheduled for the leadup to 2017, including extensive makeovers of the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the National Arts Centre.

“In order to look (our) best … that means perhaps scrubbing up a bit,” she says. “I’m looking at that as short-term pain for long-term gain.”

Organizations: Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, FIFA Women Canadian Museum of History World Tourism Organization Conference Board of Canada Holiday Inn Quality Inn Minto Suite Hotel Financial Post Canada Science and Technology Museum National Arts Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa, Netherlands Toronto China India Mexico U.S. Montreal Cooper Street Rideau Street

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