Ottawa hotels hoping for summer reopening; awaiting provincial rules

Chateau Laurier
Chateau Laurier

Many Ottawa hotels are cautiously preparing to reopen their doors this summer in a bid to cater to a domestic tourist market that’s expected to rebound as COVID-19 restrictions are eased – but hoteliers are waiting for key details from the province on new rules and regulations before putting concrete plans into place. 

“I think all hotels are in a similar boat,” Steve Ball, the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, told OBJ Tuesday afternoon. 

“Most of them were always intending to open either sometime in May or June or (the) first of July, in that neighbourhood. But I think everybody is in a bit of a wait-and-see mode until the protocols are set by the province as to what new (procedures) hotels have to abide by.”

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Restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus have hit the hotel industry harder than almost any other sector of the local economy.

Ball said about half of his organization’s 60 member properties have closed their doors since the pandemic began – including major hotels such as the Château Laurier and the Lord Elgin.

Overall, Ball estimates about 50 of the region’s 100 or so hotels have shut down, and even those that are still open have seen occupancy rates plummet into the single digits. At least 5,000 of the 6,000 employees at local hotels have been laid off since the pandemic essentially shut down Ottawa’s tourism industry.

Chateau Laurier general manager Rick Corcoran told CTV News on Monday that the iconic hotel, which has been closed since March 21, is potentially looking at reopening in June, but a hotel spokesperson said Tuesday dates are still being considered and nothing is certain.

Still, Ball said he remains hopeful that the industry will bounce back fairly quickly, although he says he expects it to “lag behind” many other sectors of the economy because most major meetings and conventions originally slated for the rest of 2019 have been cancelled and there is no firm timetable for international air travel to resume.

“We’re optimistic we’ll do pretty well in the domestic market.”

“We’re not going to go back to our 2019 numbers (in the short term) by any means,” he added.

“We’re optimistic we’ll do pretty well in the domestic market. Ottawa’s really always depended on the domestic market more so than the international market. But it’s critical that we get our attractions open quickly, including our museums and galleries, and that we have events that people can come to attend.” 

Major events such as Bluesfest and the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill that draw thousands of visitors to the capital every summer have been scrapped as a result of the province’s ban on public gatherings. Ball says it’s still anyone’s guess when the tourism industry will get back on its feet. 

“Conditions can change daily, so I’m reluctant to be definitive in terms of opening dates for hotels or any other businesses,” he said. 

“Let’s just hope that we don’t get a second wave (of COVID-19 infections) and that doesn’t create a setback in terms of the provincial strategy to get us back to business. Safety is paramount. It’s going to take time.”

Ball isn’t the only one anxiously awaiting Ottawa’s dormant tourism industry to be rekindled once the COVID-19 lockdown is loosened. 

Last week, Mayor Jim Watson urged local residents to stay home and be tourists in their own city to help the sector rebound.

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