Coping with COVID-19: Watson urges Ottawa residents to accelerate tourism industry’s revival

Editor's Note

In order to keep Ottawa business leaders informed in this unprecedented health and economic crisis, OBJ publisher Michael Curran is conducting a series of video panel discussions over the coming weeks with members of Ottawa's business community. 

Just as he has throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Jim Watson issued a familiar message to Ottawa residents on Friday: stay home.

Only this time, he means after the lockdown ends.

Appearing on a live video segment with OBJ’s Michael Curran and Peter Kovessy, Watson urged viewers to help kickstart the capital’s beleaguered tourism industry once businesses are back up and running by taking “staycations” right here in town rather than venturing elsewhere.

Calling the coronavirus pandemic “the single largest challenge to face the tourism industry in our lifetime,” the mayor said the path to recovery starts in our own backyards.

“We’ve got to encourage people within our own city to go and visit some of the attractions, festivals and so on,” Watson said. When the lockdown ends, he added, “we’re going to have to call upon the million-plus people that live in the city of Ottawa to help these businesses.”

Jim Watson Q&A
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson responds to questions from the city's business community during a live interview.

Clearly warming to the topic, the mayor even suggested couples take a “romantic getaway” at a local hotel “instead of going to Niagara Falls.”

Ottawa’s $2.2-billion-a-year tourism industry has been rocked by COVID-19. Measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus have already forced the cancellation of major attractions such as Bluesfest and the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, and at least half of the region’s hotels have closed their doors due to a lack of customers since the province ordered a widespread shutdown of the economy last month.

Ottawa Tourism officials predict the effect of pandemic-related measures on the sector could cost the city’s economy more than $1 billion this year.

Watson also took a moment to encourage businesses and government organizations to book conventions and conferences at local venues once the province gives the “all-clear signal” to larger gatherings.

“I think people at this point are really tired of conference calls and Zoom and would like to have face-to-face meetings,” he said.

Watson was asked about a variety of business topics during the half-hour interview, including additional tax relief to commercial property owners, the role of the manufacturing sector in the city’s economic recovery as well as the police checkpoints on the Quebec side of the region’s interprovincial bridges.

For the full interview, watch the interview above.