Overnight visits to Ottawa expected to jump 2.4% in 2019: Conference Board

NAC
The National Arts Centre on Elgin Street.

Buoyed by the pending arrival of light rail and more direct flights from the United States, Ottawa is expected to welcome 2.4 per cent more overnight visitors this year than it did in 2018, a new report from the Conference Board of Canada says.

The Conference Board is projecting about 5.3 million overnight stays in 2019, up from last year’s total of 5.17 million. Overall, the organization says, the total number of visitors to the region is expected to jump two per cent to 11.2 million in 2019.

The board is equally bullish on Ottawa’s longer-term tourism prospects, projecting overall growth in overnight visits of at least 2.3 per cent from 2020 to 2022. It says improvements in the city’s transportation infrastructure and Ottawa’s growing popularity among foreign travellers should keep the industry on a strong upward trajectory.

“Over the longer term, several major investments in transportation and tourist-related facilities, including renovations to the Ottawa International Airport terminal and a light-rail station at the airport, are expected to pay dividends in the years to come,” the report says.

The Conference Board also says it expects those visitors to pump more money into the local economy, predicting tourists’ overnight spending will rise an average of 5.3 per cent annually over the next four years.

The board’s sunny outlook suggests the local industry is poised to bounce back from a lacklustre 2018 in which the number of total visitors fell 1.5 per cent from a year earlier and overnight stays dropped nearly two per cent. The Conference Board blamed several factors for Ottawa’s lukewarm 2018 numbers, including the “hangover effect” from the Canada 150 celebrations that drew a record number of tourists to the capital in 2017, rising gas prices and a heat wave that put a damper on visits in the peak tourism months of July and August.

The organization is predicting local tourism-related businesses will get a boost from the opening of the Confederation LRT line later this year and upcoming events such as the 2020 Canadian ringette championships.

While the board expects overnight visits from domestic travellers to grow by about two per cent annually over the next several years, it’s expecting an even bigger bump from the U.S. and overseas markets.

Noting that the U.S. is the city’s biggest source of foreign visitors with more than half a million Americans travelling to Ottawa each year, the board says better air connections should help boost those figures.

Six in 10 overnight visitors from the U.S. arrive by plane, the report said, adding “expanded direct air capacity” to cities south of the border should help reverse last year’s decline in the number of American tourists who stayed more than a day in the capital. The board is predicting annual growth of more than three per cent in overnight U.S. visits from 2019 through 2022.

The Conference Board expects even more robust growth from the overseas market, which drew more than 640,000 visitors to Ottawa last year. The report is predicting the number of overseas travellers to the capital to grow by nearly five per cent in 2019, followed by steady rises of at least five per cent annually for the next three years.

By 2022, the board expects nearly 800,000 overseas travellers to visit Ottawa, led by a surge in visitors from growing markets such as China and Australia.

The report comes a day after Ottawa Tourism told OBJ it’s putting its marketing efforts in China on hold in light of strained relations between Canada and the Asian country. According to the Conference Board, China is Ottawa’s top market for overseas travellers, with more than 96,000 tourists from the country visiting the capital in 2016.

Overall, the board expects 2019 to be a better year for the Canadian tourism industry as a whole than 2018, when “modest gains in domestic travel were coupled with subdued growth in international markets.”

The organization is projecting Canada will see a total of more than 377 million visitors in 2019, a boost of 1.8 per cent. About 149 million of those are expected to be overnight stays, up two per cent from a year ago.