Ottawa Tourism hoping new self-hire ‘Le Boat’ service invigorates Rideau Canal visitation

Stock image, for illustrative purposes only.

A European self-hire boating service has Ottawa Tourism officials excited about a new draw on the Rideau Canal, as operations officially launch at Le Boat’s Smith Falls outpost next week.

Le Boat provides luxury self-hire cabin cruiser boats on inland waterways in eight European countries, including France, the U.K., Italy and Holland.

Smiths Falls will act as both its North American headquarters and mark the starting point for customers near the midpoint of the canal.

Expanding service to the Rideau Canal will begin next spring with 16 available boats, but a Parks Canada release from June states the company is hoping to double its number of boats in the next five years.

The company says its clients tend to be groups and couples older than 55, as well as families. The renting “captain” must have a valid pleasure craft operator card and go through an orientation course with Le Boat.

“We are extremely excited about establishing our footprint in North America, and especially pleased to be launching our new venture in the beautiful province of Ontario, Canada. The picturesque Rideau Canal is a vacationer’s dream and the place to be next summer,” said Le Boat managing director Cheryl Brown in a statement.

Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications with Ottawa Tourism, says Le Boat expands the definition of a “Rideau Canal experience.”

Much of the promotion and experience of the canal, whether it’s through paddling, skating, walking or biking, is contained to the downtown core. Le Boat is an opportunity to take in the entire 202-kilometre waterway, she says.

That opens up options to include towns such as Merrickville and Perth in the Rideau Canal pitch, alongside the convenience of mooring in downtown Ottawa.

“There are so many different ways to experience the Rideau Canal."

“There are so many different ways to experience the Rideau Canal. This is just one more feather in our cap, one more way of promoting all there is to know about the Rideau Canal,” Ms. Van Kregten says.

Attracting visitors through Le Boat is just one part of a vacation, she says, adding that Ottawa will benefit from tourists’ dollars both pre- and post-boat adventure.

Le Boat touts that it receives 30 per cent “repeat visitation”; after clients’ initial trips end, many seek the same experience in a new locale.

The decision to expand to Canada before the United States may actually be connected more to the American market than the Canadian one, Ms. Van Kregten suggests. The large U.S. market may be looking to take a self-hire boat trip without leaving North America.

“To offer those American customers a chance to have that experience without crossing an ocean I think is a huge plus to them,” she says.

According to the 2017 Book of Lists, set for its public launch on Thursday evening, eight per cent of visitors booking hotel rooms in Ottawa are of U.S. origin.

Ms. Van Kregten adds that Canadian visitors may also be interested in Le Boat as a chance to see the Rideau Canal from a new perspective.