Ottawa Tourism looks to boost 'hyperlocal' visits with discount program

Watson's Mill
Watson's Mill in Manotick is among the tourist attractions offering special deals through the MyOttawa Pass. Photo by Catherine Bulinski

With the COVID-19 lockdown expected to take more than a billion-dollar bite out of visitor spending in the capital this year, Ottawa Tourism is giving local residents an extra incentive to sample the wide menu of attractions in their own backyard.

The city’s main tourism marketing agency is launching the MyOttawa Pass, a free "digital passport" that allows users to get discounts and special offers from more than 60 local tourism businesses.

Among the deals are 35 per cent off a flight over Parliament Hill from Ottawa Biplane Adventures and 20 per cent off whitewater rafting at Rafting Momentum. The offers are valid until the end of July.

Catherine Callary, Ottawa Tourism’s vice-president of destination development, said the initiative is aimed at kickstarting a local industry that’s expected to take a $1.4-billion hit in 2020 after major visitor attractions such as Bluesfest and Canada Day celebrations were called off in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 has been a health crisis but also a major economic crisis for tourism businesses and all kinds of businesses across the city,” she said.

“We’re looking to encourage residents to be the first to support local and support their local businesses and help get things revved back up again from an economic standpoint. We’re hoping that it will inspire people to get out and explore Ottawa.”

Callary said there has been “overwhelming interest” from local businesses to get involved in the program, adding the agency felt it was important to target Ottawa residents first when looking to help the industry get back on its feet.

“We’re marketing toward what we call a hyperlocal geographic zone,” she explained. 

Social media tracking and other indicators suggest that visitors from outside the region are still wary about venturing too far afield for vacations, she said. 

The agency will gradually roll out marketing campaigns aimed first at tourists from nearby centres such as Toronto and Montreal before casting its net farther into the United States and abroad when the time is right, Callary added, noting that it’s not going to happen overnight.

“It’s going to take years to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” she said. 

An estimated 11 million tourists visit the capital region in an average year, but last month Ottawa Tourism CEO Michael Crockatt told OBJ the city won’t see those numbers again until “beyond 2021.” The city is looking at a range of programs, including a campaign to promote tourism in rural areas, in a bid to reignite the industry.

Callary said she’s confident the MyOttawa Pass program will be another big part of that effort.

“I think we’re all a little bit ready for seeing our own destination maybe through new eyes,” she said. “I think everyone’s kind of hungry and curious for that.”