'We've got to build for 2022 and beyond': Ottawa Tourism boss urges residents to help promote capital

Ottawa sign

The head of Ottawa’s main tourism marketing agency says the city must do more to promote assets such as its bilingual character and mix of rural and urban landscapes in a bid to attract visitors.

“We know that there’s been some gaps between … the way we see ourselves as a community and how others see us,” Ottawa Tourism boss Michael Crockatt said Friday morning during a virtual Q&A with Ottawa Board of Trade CEO Sueling Ching.

Crockatt made the remark after Ching noted that Ottawa Tourism has been revamping its marketing strategy for the past several years with help from renowned place-branding consultant Frank Cuypers, a senior strategist with international tourism adviser Destination Think!

Cuypers told Ottawa’s virtual city-building summit last month that Canada’s capital has an international reputation for being “boring,” saying the city has “great neighbourhoods, but nobody knows.” He said the city needs to do a better job of hyping “urban assets” such as the ByWard Market if it wants to shed its label as a place that lacks vibrancy.

Crockatt said Friday his agency is working on stepping up its branding game, and he called on each resident to do their part to sell the city to tourists by acting as an “ambassador” for Ottawa on social media.

Word of mouth 'powerful'

“Brand is about the stories that (tourists) share and memories that they have of our community,” he added. “Word of mouth is so powerful right now in terms of people’s perceptions of a destination.”

Crockatt also urged Ottawa residents to help the city’s tourism industry get back on its feet by booking staycations at local hotels and encouraging friends and relatives from out of town to come visit once it’s safe to do so.

Noting that the pandemic is expected to cost Ottawa as much as $2.6 billion in lost visitor spending by the end of 2021, Crockatt said the city will be relying on tourists ​– especially from Toronto, Montreal and other places within driving distance ​– to help kickstart its economy once restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus are lifted.

"We need 2022 to be the biggest thing this community has seen since (Canada 150)."

He said Ottawa Tourism is hoping initiatives such as the Bookmark Ottawa campaign announced earlier this week will trigger a post-pandemic boom as people get fully vaccinated and resume travelling again. 

“We’ve got to build for 2022 and beyond. We need 2022 to be the biggest thing this community has seen since 2017,” he said, referring to Ottawa’s Canada 150 celebrations that drew record numbers of tourists to the region.

Crockatt was speaking as part of the Mayor’s Breakfast series, a regular event hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade.