Ottawa Tourism launches $100 gift cards to lure hotel guests

Westin hotel
Westin hotel

Just days after extending its campaign to offer discounts and special offers at dozens of local businesses, Ottawa Tourism is giving visitors another incentive to see the capital’s sights this summer as it steps up its bid to kickstart the city’s beleaguered tourism industry.

The agency has launched a new campaign called It’s On Us, offering a gift card worth $100 to guests who book at least a two-day stay in one of 30 participating hotels. The Visa cards are handed out upon check-in to encourage visitors to spend a little extra during their trip to the capital.

Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Michael Crockatt suggested the new initiative might even tempt a few local residents to take a mini-holiday at a hotel in their own backyard.

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“With more of our tourism businesses opening up with enhanced safety protocols, we’re seeing more people planning staycations in Ottawa,” Crockatt said in a statement. 

“If you’re staying in our hotels, let us cover the cost of a nice meal on a patio in the ByWard Market neighbourhood, or a boat cruise along the Rideau Canal or a visit to the Diefenbunker!”

The launch of the It’s On Us campaign follows Ottawa Tourism’s decision earlier this week to extend the MyOttawa Pass. 

The free “digital passport” for discounts at dozens of tourist destinations, which was launched in late June, was originally supposed to be valid until the end of July and will now expire on Monday, Sept. 7. The tourism agency also says an additional 15 offers will be added to the pass this week. 

Local tourism leaders say the latest initiatives are aimed at propping up a $3-billion local industry that normally employs more than 43,000 people but is expected to take a $1.4-billion spending 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 virus that causes COVID-19.

An estimated 11 million tourists visit the capital region in an average year, but Crockatt told OBJ this spring 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.

Hotel sector struggling

In particular, the It’s On Us campaign could give a lift to Ottawa’s ailing hotel sector. 

While occupancy at some downtown hotels has crept up in the past couple of weeks on the strength of domestic road-trippers from Toronto and Montreal, the local industry as a whole continues to suffer. 

Overall occupancy rates have been hovering around 20 per cent for much of July ​– far below the 80 per cent levels normally seen in peak summer season ​– and about a third of all lodgings in the region were still closed as of late July.

With the Canada-U.S. border closed to car traffic and 50-person limits on indoor gatherings scuttling virtually all meeting and convention business, industry leaders concede many hotels in the capital will likely continue to struggle for some time to come.

“I just think it’ll be a fairly long, slow road ahead of us to recover to the numbers that we were at in 2019,” Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association president Steve Ball told OBJ last week.

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