Ottawa hoteliers still waiting for Canada 150 boost

Wet weather, perception that rooms are sold out have tempered what many hoteliers felt would be a record year, industry leaders say
Steve Ball
Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association president Steve Ball. (OBJ file photo)

Attention, visitors: There is indeed still room at the inn this summer.

That’s the message local hotel industry officials are pushing after what’s been a softer spring tourism season than they expected – ironically, a situation they say was caused partly by a misconception that lodgings in the nation’s capital are all booked up thanks to the plethora of major events celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday.

That perception, they say, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Somehow, it got out there in the media – and it wasn’t just in Ottawa, it was carried on national broadcasting – that Ottawa’s sold out for the summer and the rates are incredible for Canada Day, you can’t get a room anywhere,” says David Smythe, general manager of the Lord Elgin Hotel. “I beg to differ. That is simply not true.”

He says many hoteliers were expecting a bumper crop of tourists to flock to the region throughout much of 2017, attracted by a year-long slate of heavily publicized events from Red Bull’s Crashed Ice competition and the Juno Awards in March through to the outdoor NHL game between the Senators and Montreal Canadiens in December.

So far, however, the anticipated uptick in business hasn’t materialized.

“It’s been a decent year – it hasn’t been the best of the best, so to speak,” Mr. Smythe says. “I don’t think any of us are complaining or really hurting. I think we’re just kind of saying, ‘Gosh, I thought it would be busier.’ The demand for guest rooms wasn’t as high as we had anticipated.”

Chateau Laurier director of public relations Deneen Perrin says her hotel has enjoyed a “really good” start to 2017, bolstered by a rare March night of full occupancy during Crashed Ice. Canada Day weekend is already a sellout at the Chateau Laurier as well, but the hotel still has plenty of rooms available at other times.  

She agrees with Mr. Smythe that some potential customers have shied away from booking trips to the capital due to a mistaken belief that there are no vacancies in the downtown core.

“I think people are confusing Canada Day (weekend), which is four days, with the entire summer.”

“I think people are confusing Canada Day (weekend), which is four days, with the entire summer,” Ms. Perrin says.

Overall occupancy rates across the city for the first five months of the year were about the same as they were for the same period in 2016, according to Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association president Steve Ball. While many hotel managers were probably expecting better numbers than that, he says record-setting rain this spring put a bit of a damper on attendance at events such as the Canadian Tulip Festival.

“Even during Winterlude, there were some weather issues,” Mr. Ball says. “It was touch and go whether the canal was going to be ready. Weather has been a factor.”

Ms. Perrin echoed those thoughts.  

“I don’t know that people were really thinking about summer,” she says. “But now that it’s getting warmer, I think the phones are starting to ring a little bit more.”

Mr. Ball is optimistic the situation will improve as the weather heats up and the Canada Day celebrations approach. Leisure travellers often don’t decide on their vacation plans until practically the last minute, he explains, so many of the Ottawa 2017 marketing campaigns targeting those summer tourists only launched a few weeks ago, he says.

“You don’t want your marketing to be too, too early because it’s too far in advance of the decision-making process. I think that’s a big part of it,” Mr. Ball says. “It was a little concerning a couple of weeks ago, but we’re feeling a lot better about things.”

Mr. Smythe shares that sunny outlook, saying he’s confident other marquee events such as Moment Factory’s Kontinuum multimedia show in the Lyon LRT station and the giant mechanical creatures of La Machine, which are both coming to the city next month, will kickstart what he hopes will be a sizzling summer for the industry.

‘Really optimistic’

“Quietly, we’re overconfident perhaps that we’re about to see a tsunami of tourists coming to Ottawa for the summer months with all the fabulous things that are happening,” he says. “We are very confident the 2017 summer is going to be outstanding.”

Mr. Ball agrees, saying he believes the capital’s star-studded lineup of events and activities will lure tourists from across the country and beyond over the next few months.

“Those are events that are going to draw leisure traffic throughout a longer period of time. We’re really optimistic that the added summer attractions are going to get more leisure travel through July and August.”

As for the Canada Day weekend, tourists planning to celebrate the nation’s sesquicentennial in Ottawa aren’t out of luck yet, officials say. The Lord Elgin, for example, had dozens of rooms available for July 1 as of mid-June, and Mr. Ball is urging potential visitors to call around and find lodging while those vacancies exist.   

“Canada Day is never a problem (for the hotel industry),” he says. “What we’re trying to do is extend Canada Day all summer long – at least that thinking.”

Hotel occupancy rates

January

2017: 54.8%
2016: 53.5%

February

2017: 70.3%
2016: 71.2%

March

2017: 67.7%
2016: 65.1%

First quarter

2017: 64%
2016: 63.3%

Average daily rate

January

2017: $148.60
2016: $134.41

February

2017: $158.59
2016: $140.22

March

2017: $151.30
2016: $134.08

First quarter

2017: $153.00
2016: $136.23

Revenue per available room

January

2017: $81.36
2016: $70.30

February

2017: $111.54
2016: $100.11

March

2017: $102.43
2016: $86.50

First quarter

2017: $97.99
2016: $85.63

 

Source: Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association