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Best Places to Work: Ottawa Tourism knows how to celebrate its people – both inside and outside the office

Ottawa tourism BBQ

Once a year, the team at Ottawa Tourism gathers at president and CEO Michael Crockatt’s home for their “family barbecue”. 

“Everyone brings their children, their partners, their spouses,” says Roslyn Smith, director of Governance and People. Two staff members are currently on parental leave, and “they both came with their newborn babies that were three, four weeks old.” 

As one of the winners of the Ottawa Best Places to Work 2022 award, Ottawa Tourism takes great care to ensure it is supportive of its employees’ professional and personal lives, Smith says. 

Being a tourism agency, it’s no surprise that Ottawa Tourism attracts creative employees. Smith shares that one staff member is also a Pilates teacher, while another has a consulting company helping job seekers with their resumes and interview preparation. Another staff member, Andy Akangah, is an artist, whose work was featured in a recent exhibition at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

For one of Ottawa Tourism’s social events, Smith and the team went to Akangah’s exhibit. “I think it showed him that this is something that he worked really hard on outside of Ottawa Tourism, and we support him as his ‘corporate family’,” Smith says.

A group of colleagues pose for a photo at an art museum

Of Ottawa Tourism’s current complement of 44 employees, 34 are women. Smith shares that it’s a parent-friendly, flexible workplace, with a best-in-class benefits package, as well as generous learning and development opportunities. 

As CEO of the company, Crockatt takes great pride in ensuring the team feels heard in all aspects of the job. 

“We’ve learned that we need to be flexible, and that everything around us will change, meaning the workplace needs to change too,” he says. “Every new person who joins us brings with them a new perspective, and that helps us broaden our own views as a company, and foster a workplace where everyone hopefully feels like they belong.”

Ottawa Tourism also recently formed its first diversity and inclusion committee – and its work continues. 

“We track diversity on our board of directors and hiring at any level,” Smith says. “Our people represent a rich variety of cultural backgrounds with employees that speak Canada’s official languages, as well as many others that are relevant for our community and geographic target markets. We recognize that we represent the entire community and we want all Ottawans to see themselves reflected in our work.”

In 2021, alongside 20 other Canadian CEOs, Crockatt signed Destinations International’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Pledge, committing to nurturing a tourism industry that represents its staff and community at every level. 

But Ottawa Tourism doesn’t just stop there — every quarter, it issues employee surveys, ensuring its staff can anonymously share feedback about the organization and management. 

“If there’s anything that I pride myself on, it’s being open, listening to colleagues, doing my best to understand why an issue is important to them, showing trust, and not being afraid to try new things,” adds Crockatt. “A surprising number of our policies don’t come from me or our HR team. They were either suggested or completely developed by individuals with an idea and some passion.”

The agency also offers self-assessments, where employees meet with their managers to discuss what they need in their jobs, if they feel supported, and to dive further into how their roles fit into the organization’s strategic plan. 

Since shifting to a hybrid work model, surveys like this have become more important than ever for Ottawa Tourism. “[The surveys’] results often show us that the culture is one of the main reasons that people stay with Ottawa Tourism,” Smith says. “It’s not like, ‘here’s your cubicle, here’s your laptop, best of luck’ — it’s somewhere very welcoming, loving and exciting.” 

For Smith, these characteristics are part of the reasons that Ottawa Tourism won the Best Place to Work award. “We want people to be excited and be themselves, to have ideas and walk into our president’s office and share those ideas,” Smith says.

Looking to the future, Smith says her team is excited to get back to in-person events. “Tourism was the first hit, hardest hit and will be the last industry to recover [from COVID-19],” she says, adding that the agency went from a “really bubbly, exciting place” to questioning how it might survive. 

However, Smith says, Crockatt and the senior team kept everyone together through the darker days: “We’ve come out of it stronger, and with great plans for 2023 and beyond.”

Ottawa Tourism at a glance

  • 77 per cent of staff are women 
  • Rainbow Registered – a national accreditation for LGBT+ friendly businesses and organizations
  • Paid vacation days & personal days 
  • A one-time stipend to improve your work from home setup
  • An employer-provided and paid iPhone 
  • Professional development opportunities
  • A defined-contribution RRSP with employer match  
  • A parent-friendly and flexible workplace