Deals of the Year: Events Ottawa makes its mark

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Mark Brownlee
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For Patrick Kelly, the year 2013 in Ottawa’s tourism sector was notable largely because it brought the city one step closer to international renown.

The Ottawa Convention Centre's Pat Kelly. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

The past 12 months did not feature the kind of marquee event that illustrated previous calendars  – there was no equivalent to the NHL all-star game this year – but the president and CEO of the Ottawa Convention Centre believes that’s to be expected.

The important thing to him is that the city now has a group set up solely for the purpose of bidding on events that help build up the city’s reputation using the ice, field or court.

Events Ottawa, a subgroup of industry organization Ottawa Tourism that’s dedicated to bringing major events to the city, is sending up a flare that the capital is a great place to visit.

“It helps with the branding of the destination,” said Mr. Kelly, who is at the centre of the city’s tourism scene as head of the city’s largest downtown meeting space. “We gain exposure in the very places that are actually markets for the pursuit of convention business.”

As an example, Mr. Kelly points to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is set to play some games in Ottawa in 2015. Landing this sort of event will make it easier to pitch Canada’s capital in places such as Brussels, London and Chicago.

He said his sales reps have yet to notice much of this taking place but he expects that to change in the coming years, now that Events Ottawa has cemented its presence.

Those in the city’s tourism industry say the organization has created a big shift in the type of events the city is hosting.

In previous years, groups such as the Ottawa Senators attempted to bring major sporting events to the city on an ad hoc basis, but often lost out when going up against other cities that had more formal bidding machines.

Events Ottawa frees up those groups by having its own dedicated staff members whose sole job is to attempt to bring significant events to the city on the tourism industry’s behalf.

This makes a huge difference for getting the sorts of small to medium-sized events – the kind that dominated the calendar in 2013 – that hoteliers particularly like to see.

Daniel Laliberté, general manager of the Ottawa Marriott, said these are particularly useful because they help to fill up room space during down times.

“You need to focus on the small to medium-sized events,” said Mr. Laliberté. “That’s where our niche should be and is.”

He pointed to the International Triathlon Union’s 2013 Duathlon World Championships, which took place in August, as an example. The event didn’t have the same cachet as an NHL all-star game, he said, but it created huge economic spinoffs in terms of room nights booked and restaurant table reservations.

The city is so pleased with the results it’s gotten from Events Ottawa that Mayor Jim Watson decided in 2013 to commit more funding to the project. The 2014 city budget, which council passed in November, included plans to spend an additional $350,000 on the major events office.

The city agreed in previous years to provide $550,000 in annual funding to the office, along with a staff member on secondment to the office. That’s in combination with another $86,500 from Ottawa Tourism.

There has also been public money put towards individual events. The city committed to spending $442,500 to bringing events such as the International Ice Hockey Federation’s women’s world championship to Ottawa in 2013.

Tourism officials say this is money well spent.

Mr. Kelly said it’s especially important to fund a group such as Events Ottawa because bidding for major sporting events is competitive. If the public sector isn’t willing to fund this sort of venture, he said, the city will fall behind.

Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Noel Buckley – who did not return calls requesting comment for this story – has said in the past that the money the city provides gives the tourism community greater leverage in getting matching funding from the federal and provincial governments.

There are more events on the horizon as well. The 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships are set to take place in January, while the CIS Final 8 men’s basketball championship will return to the Canadian Tire Centre in March.

As of November, Events Ottawa had only confirmed one event for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, but Mr. Buckley said last month that tourism officials have been in talks with several organizations about coming to the city.

Mr. Laliberté said he expects the number of events to ramp up each of the next few years until 2017 rolls around.

Sidebar: List of event hosting bids won in 2013 by Events Ottawa

2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship (supported bid by Ottawa Senators)

2013 Ontario Women’s Hockey Association provincial championship (supported bid by Ottawa Senators)

2013 Duathlon World Championships

2013 Canadian Comedy Awards Festival

2013 Canadian Gymnastics Championships

2013 and 2014 CIS Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championship

2013 Ottawa Yonex Canadian International Challenge (badminton)

2013 Pacific Nations Cup (senior men’s rugby)

2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships

2014 Canadian Deaf Dart Championship

2014 Panamerican Combined Events Cup (track and field)

(Source: Ottawa Tourism)

Organizations: NHL, Ottawa Senators, Ottawa Convention Centre FIFA Women International Ice Hockey Federation Ottawa Marriott International Triathlon Union Canadian Tire Centre Hockey Association

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Brussels London Chicago Pacific Nations

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