Winning strategy: Ottawa Tourism hopes free-trip prize will fuel visitors' wanderlust

Rideau Canal
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With his industry kicking off a week that’s normally a cause for celebration, Michael Crockatt was searching Tuesday for a glimmer of sunshine in what’s been a stormy 15-month stretch.

Speaking early in national Tourism Week, the head of Ottawa Tourism repeated a line he’s used often since last spring: no other industry has been hit harder by the pandemic, which is expected to cost the capital region as much as $2.6 billion in lost visitor spending by the end of this year.

Still, as his agency was unveiling a new marketing campaign aimed at inspiring would-be tourists to make the city part of their future travel plans, Crockatt said he’s encouraged that the province has finally laid out a road map for reopening the economy over the next few months based on vaccination rates and other indicators.

The measures started Saturday, when outdoor recreational amenities such as golf courses and tennis courts were reopened with some restrictions in place. While Crockatt applauded that move, he said that for many other tourism-related businesses, a return to some sense of normalcy can’t come soon enough.

“There’s a lot of work in front of us as an industry,” he said. “Last week’s announcement was good to provide a little bit of clarity for the industry as to what some of the milestones might be for reopening and getting things back up and running, but it’s also not an equal reopening for all parts of the sector. 

“I’m happy for golfers and golf courses and things like that, but we’re still many weeks away from a lot of tourism businesses being able to reopen. That’s still a challenge.”

"There’s a lot of work in front of us as an industry."

In the meantime, his organization is doing what it can to stoke a bit of wanderlust among cooped-up travel buffs eager to explore the nation’s capital once restrictions are lifted.

On Tuesday, Ottawa Tourism launched its Bookmark Ottawa campaign, targeting travellers within driving distance of the capital. 

Visitors to the agency’s website are asked to choose from a variety of activities and destinations as they plan their “dream trip” to the region. They include whitewater rafting, touring local craft breweries or taking a ride across the Ottawa River to Gatineau on Interzip Rogers, a new zipline based at the Zibi development that’s slated to open this summer.

Everyone who submits their picks is entered into a draw for a trip for two to the capital that covers round-trip transportation, two nights at a local hotel of the winner’s choice and $250 worth of gift cards. The promotion is being marketed on social and digital media platforms in nearby cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Kingston.

“It’s a really cool opportunity to get someone inspired and then help them deliver on that experience,” Crockatt said. “We’re pretty excited about it. This is a time when everybody’s been looking at the same four walls for so long, it’s nice to start thinking about the potential to travel again.”

'Fun ideas'

He also touted other upcoming events and promotions, including the Room Service concert series that was postponed earlier this year and a multimedia experience featuring the works of Vincent Van Gogh that’s being hosted by Bluesfest organizers at Lansdowne Park’s Aberdeen Pavilion this summer.

“There’s a lot of bad news about our industry, and there's still a lot of time to go before we’re anywhere close to back to normal, but what’s exciting is that there are still businesses and entrepreneurs who are creating new things and bringing new things to our city,” Crockatt said, while teasing that there are more announcements to come.

“There’s some fun stuff that we’ve been working on with a couple of other partners in Eastern Canada. We’ve got some pretty fun ideas about how to promote travel once the restrictions are lifted.”

In an effort to speed up the reopening process, Crockatt is encouraging everyone who hasn’t already done so to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.

“We’ve all got a role to play in accelerating things by getting our vaccines, and we’ve all got a role to play in the economic recovery by inviting people to come and visit.”