Ottawa's tourism industry braces for COVID-19 disruptions

Parliament Hill

Ottawa’s main tourism marketing agency says it’s taking a wait-and-see approach to what impact the worldwide outbreak of the new coronavirus could have on the industry’s bottom line in the capital.

The National Capital Region draws more than 10 million tourists a year, including thousands from Europe and China, areas that have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Tourism employs more than 43,000 people and generates $1.4 billion a year in economic activity in Ottawa, and industry insiders told OBJ Thursday they’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst when it comes to how the virus could affect their businesses.

“Clearly, public health comes first, and – like all Canadians, – Ottawa Tourism’s thoughts are with the people affected,” Justine Van Kregten, director of communications for Ottawa Tourism, wrote in an email, adding the organization “cannot quantify the extent of the impact at this time.”

The region attracts tens of thousands of tourists a year from China, where the virus has hit every province, and the country is one of Ottawa’s fastest-growing markets for visitors. In addition, about 17,000 people visit the region each year from Italy, which is the source of Europe’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.

Van Kregten said Ottawa Tourism is continuing to monitor the situation closely, adding it expects “additional negative effects depending on the length of the pandemic.” But she said the organization also has “the flexibility to redistribute their resources,” meaning it could spend more money on advertising the capital’s attractions later in the year or focus on different markets.

“We’re not yet at that point, but are looking at contingencies,” Van Kregten added.

Short-term rental platform Airbnb, meanwhile, said Thursday it is also “closely monitoring” news about the virus, adding its “prioritizing the safety and well-being” of its hosts and guests. As of late last year, the platform had more than 4,600 listings in the capital that generated about $36 million annually for their hosts.

In an email to OBJ Thursday, Airbnb spokesperson Lindsey Scully said the company will continue to keep a close eye on the COVID-19 situation.

“Our focus right now is how we can best support our stakeholders as they are impacted by this global health challenge, including hosts, guests, employees, and the communities in which we operate,” she wrote.