Cobblestone Tours idles this winter as owners take stock of local tourism market

Etienne LeBlanc-Cameron, Mathieu Gravel
Étienne LeBlanc-Cameron (left), co-owner of Cobblestone Tours, with his friend Mathieu Gravel last year on the back of the vintage trolley owned by Cobblestone Tours that takes visitors around Ottawa and Gatineau. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Winter sightseeing company Cobblestone Tours has decided to take the season off while Ottawa tourism recovers from the pandemic and other recent challenges, according to co-owner Étienne LeBlanc-Cameron. 

“Until tourism is back to where it used to be, we’re cautious on that approach,” he told OBJ. “Before we (take on) more financial risk, we want to take a year back to analyze the situation, see where everything’s going and make decisions from there.”

The young company, which offers winter sightseeing tours of the city in unique vintage buses, launched in 2021 but was hindered by pandemic restrictions and the “Freedom Convoy.” Last year, amidst mild weather, it operated its first full season

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“It was to test the market and see if this was something that tourists would want, if it was popular enough,” said LeBlanc-Cameron. “It seemed to hit and people were interested in it. There just wasn’t enough demand the first year.”

As a result, he and his business partner decided to take this season off to give tourism more time to recover. 

Mild weather last year was a hindrance for a number of tourism operators, as it kept the Rideau Canal Skateway, a major tourist attraction, closed all season for the first time in its history. 

In a recent interview with OBJ, Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said the availability of the canal can have a “significant impact” on tourists’ decision-making. 

“It’s an anchor product,” he said. “Typically we have a very short booking window, meaning people don’t start to book up the weekends until a few days before. They determine that based on the weather and based on what activities will be available to them.” 

For a touring company like Cobblestone, weather is a key factor. 

“We’re curious to see what’s going to happen with the canal this year, see if things are going to go back to normal or if last year is where things are going from now on with global warming,” said LeBlanc-Cameron. 

If the situation persists, he said Ottawa “will have to have events or attractions that bring people to Ottawa, like Cobblestone, that aren’t necessarily dependent on the weather.”

LeBlanc-Cameron will continue offering other sightseeing options for tourists come spring and summer, through his other companies Lady Dive Tours and Gray Line. 

But next winter, he hopes Cobblestone Tours will be ready to make a comeback. 

“It’s definitely something we’re aiming to come back to,” he said. “It’s more a matter of when than if.” 

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