Tulip Festival crowds exceed expectations of Ottawa organizers

Tulip festival
Marian Catillo, visiting from Toronto, takes a selfie among the tulips, during the 2017 Canadian Tulip Festival. (Photo by Haley Ritchie / Metro)

About a million people attended this year’s tulip festival, which finished this past weekend, according to the organizers.

That’s many more people than had been anticipated.

Canadian Tulip Festival executive director Michel Gauthier said the venues were packed throughout the festival, which brought droves of tourists to the city.

“Hoteliers told us they were at capacity,” he said, adding organizers received more calls from people from Toronto and the U.S. saying they wanted to attend.

“Even Monday morning, people were calling saying we’re coming, even though it was raining,” he said. “We were quite wowed. People really want to get here.”

But he admitted organizers hadn’t expected the crowds would be quite so big.

This year was the 65th anniversary of the festival and it also coincided with Canada 150 celebrations, so organizers had anticipated more people and added extra toilets to the area around Dow’s Lake.

“There was three stations of porta-potties and that’s an increase,” Gauthier said. “In the past there was only two.”

But still, there were long lines, especially Saturday, which was hot and sunny. Some festival attendees reported waiting more than 30 minutes to use the toilet.

Gauthier also said the festival wants to do a better job of helping tourists who arrive downtown, get to Lansdowne or Dow’s Lake and he will be working closely with OC Transpo.

“I think the Tulip Shuttle needs to come back, because the regular city bus is not enough,” he said.

He also said he plans to talk to other festival directors to ensure future events will be ready for the crowds.

“It’s a good word of caution for every event to look at the service they’re offering because we’re in for a big summer,” Gauthier said.

Urban campgrounds

While attendance at the Tulip Festival may have exceeded expectations, city hall officials have been underwhelmed by the tepid interest in another offering geared at out-of-town guests.

The city has sold less than 14 per cent of the “urban campsites” planned for Ottawa 2017 celebrations and will scale back the program that was aimed at providing additional options for tourists visiting Ottawa during Canada Day.

“Mindful of Council’s clear direction that Urban Camping operate on a cost-recovery basis, staff have been closely monitoring registration,” said city manager Dan Chenier in a memo to staff.

The city was offering 571 sites inside the city for camping and parking RVs, although no alcohol or campfires were to be allowed on site.

The spots cost between $220, for three nights in a tent, to $1,130, for five nights of RV parking.

Right now the city has 79 registrations, and it expects to be close to 100 by the time registration closes.

“As a result, we will be consolidating the number of camping locations on active offer to better reflect the level of demand and to contain costs.”

Six sites farther from the downtown will be removed from the program, but camping will still take place at the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre, Tom Brown Arena, Richelieu Vanier Community Centre, St-Laurent Complex and the Earl Armstrong Arena.

Chenier said the sites have been eliminated “in order to focus resources on the remaining sites, reduce service contract obligations and ensure that the program covers its operating costs.”

Earlier this week, the Conference Board of Canada said the slew of major events in Ottawa this year – including the the Juno awards, 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup and Grey Cup, will contribute to a six-per-cent increase in overnight visits in 2017.

– With reporting by Haley Ritchie.

This article originally appeared in Metro News.