Ottawa Tourism offers tour operators incentives to court Chinese visitors

Local tourism agency says an estimated 41,000 Chinese nationals visited Ottawa last year, a number it expects to grow


Ottawa Tourism believes a new incentive program will help bring more Chinese tourists to the National Capital Region, and it’s preparing local businesses to capitalize on the incoming opportunities.

The initiative coincides with Canada-China Year of Tourism 2018, a joint program from the Canadian and Chinese governments encouraging travel between the two nations. More than 650,000 Chinese visitors came to Canada in 2017, according to Statistics Canada, a number expected to rise in the coming years as Chinese nationals increasingly turn to travel. The federal government has taken steps to encourage China’s travellers to consider Canada, opening seven new visa centres in the country.

Though comprehensive data is hard to come by, the latest analysis from Ottawa Tourism estimates that 41,000 Chinese visitors came through Ottawa last year.

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“It is already a significant market, relatively fast-growing as well, and the amazing thing is the potential that still exists in that market,” says Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Michael Crockatt.

“We wanted to think of some things that we can do to leverage the attention that tourism is getting between the two countries.”


Here’s how Ottawa Tourism’s new program works: If Chinese inbound tour operators register for the incentive program by the end of next month, they’ll receive a financial bonus for any extra room bookings they bring to the city. Existing operators earn the incentive for increasing their 2018 numbers over last year, while new operators would be rewarded for bringing any activity to the city.

Ottawa Tourism says it won’t disclose the dollar value of the incentive.

Crockatt says the level of Chinese tourism in the capital will likely rise no matter what, but Ottawa has to take steps to make sure “we’re getting more than our share.” Other cities across Canada have advantages over Ottawa – direct flights between the countries is an obvious one – so the incentive program is an attempt to level the playing field.

That’s not all the regional tourism agency is doing. It’s also taking steps to ensure that Ottawa businesses are “China-ready,” able to cater to Chinese tourists when they arrive.

Ottawa Tourism holds informational sessions for its members to inform hotels, restaurants and attractions in the city about the channels tourists like to use to make bookings, how best to display signage and what faux-pas could sink your business to a Chinese customer.

“We even had something as specific as the colour and type of flower not to use in a centrepiece on a table,” Crockatt says.

Tech advantage

One of the most significant angles businesses can consider is accepting mobile payments on common Chinese platforms such as WeChat Pay and Alipay, a service offered by Ottawa-based startup Motion Pay. The firm launched just last year and is already in 1,000 businesses across Canada and has processed $25 million in transactions.

Ottawa Tourism has partnered with the local firm to equip its members with technology that allows Chinese tourists to pay through the mobile platforms that have exploded in popularity in their country.

“It’s not just a product. It’s basically a marketing tool to attract Chinese customers,” Motion Pay CEO Riven Zhang told Techopia last month.


Motion Pay

Crockatt says the value of Motion Pay’s technology can’t be understated in encouraging Chinese visitors.

“It’s awesome to have a company like that, based in our city, that is on the cutting edge of bringing together finance, technology, tourism and international relations. It’s really cool.”

Crockatt says the goal of these programs and sharing best practices is to have tourists taking positive stories of Ottawa back to China. As important as it is for a hotel to get a good review on TripAdvisor, he says it’s just as critical that Chinese nationals are talking about the capital on WeChat.

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