If ever there was a year to head outside and embrace Ottawa’s coldest months, it’s 2021 – the year of the winter staycation.
Whether it’s urban adventures or rural getaways, there are many ways to stave off COVID cabin fever while knee-deep in January.
The tourism industry could use the boost, too. It’s been one of the hardest-hit sectors since the pandemic first checked into Ottawa last March.
Tourism spending plummeted by 63 per cent, from $2.2 billion to $800 million in 2020, according to Ottawa Tourism. Of the 43,000 Ottawa residents working in tourism, thousands lost their jobs or had their hours scaled back.
Unless you’re self-isolating in a cave, you’re likely aware the COVID-19 vaccination process is underway. Still, it will take time for the tourism sector to bounce back, says Jantine Van Kregten, communications director at Ottawa Tourism.
“It’s not like a light switch has been flipped,” says Van Kregten, who’s predicting a “slow and steady” economic recovery for tourism.
With most people sticking close to home these days, industry groups nationwide have been launching hyper-local campaigns, encouraging residents to show their love for their community by supporting, buying and shopping local.
“Every choice you make has an impact,” says Van Kregten.
Tourism has seen a rise in shorter, closer holidays known as staycations, nearcations or homecations.
“Typically, in a normal year, you wouldn’t be staying in a hotel in the same city in which you live because you have a bed in your home that’s already paid for,” says Van Kregten.
But a change in scenery has its benefits, especially with so many employees working from home to prevent the spread of COVID.
“I think it provides a mental boost,” says Van Kregten. “It gives you something fresh to think about.”
More than 40 hotels are participating in Ottawa Tourism’s It’s Still On Us promotion, which gives guests a $100 credit for a two-night minimum consecutive stay, until March 31.
The Fairmont Château Laurier has “absolutely” seen a rise in Ottawa-area couples and families spending a couple of nights at the historic hotel, says Deneen Perrin, its director of public relations.
High on the list of hotel guest feedback: “I really needed this,” she says.
The hotel’s central location makes it a great launching pad for exploring downtown while also offering amenities that staycationers are seeking on their mini-vacations, says Perrin. The hotel’s pool and health club, long and rich history, and popular tradition of serving afternoon tea are among its top draws.
The Château Laurier is also a safe place to stay, she adds.
“You know you’re in an environment where people are really paying attention to COVID protocols.”
The hotel is located steps from the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is a major tourist attraction during Winterlude.
“I always say: we don’t hibernate, we celebrate winter,” says Perrin.
The Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa is welcoming local outdoor enthusiasts to its quiet retreat in the woods, located north of Ottawa.
“I’m expecting it to be a pretty busy cross-country ski winter,” says Wakefield Mill president Robert Milling, who’s offering special ski packages of one- to three-night stays at the heritage hotel.
Visitors have ski-in, ski-out access to Gatineau Park, which offers more than 200 kilometres of groomed trails. The hotel has added a ski waxing room and 10 new chalets. It’s also converted several bedrooms into private dining rooms due to Quebec’s tight COVID restrictions, and has created a new games room.
The Wakefield Mill Hotel saw an unprecedented uptick in staycations between July and September.
“I guess the simplest way to put it is: we’ve gone from a discretionary want to almost a nondiscretionary need,” says Milling. “People need a break like I have never seen before.”
Ottawa Tourism is hoping staycationers evolve into tourism ambassadors who can convince out-of-town friends and family to visit in the post-pandemic future.