Ottawa’s main tourism marketing agency is getting a multimillion-dollar lifeline from the federal government as it looks to help the hard-hit industry recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario is giving Ottawa Tourism $5.5 million, the agency announced Wednesday.
FedDev said the grant will fund non-repayable contributions of up to $100,000 for local tourism businesses and organizations in an effort “to help them develop new and enhanced products and services to attract visitors and prepare for future growth.”
The agency is also giving $3 million to Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, which promotes tourism-related businesses in much of the Ottawa Valley and Eastern Ontario, including Lanark and Renfrew counties.
The money is part of a total funding package of $68.5 million to help the province’s regional tourism organizations and Indigenous tourism enterprises get the industry back on its feet after a two-year stretch that saw revenues plummet as travel ground to a virtual halt during the pandemic.
Ottawa Tourism CEO Michael Crockatt said the new funding will provide an “invaluable boost” to the sector’s recovery.
“Ottawa’s hospitality businesses and organizations have shown their resilience and creativity again and again over the past two years, and we look forward to being able to invest these funds into projects that will lead to jobs for our community and experiences that will allow us to continue our work of sharing Canada’s stories with visitors from around the world,” Crockatt said in an email.
Information on how to apply for the grants will be available on Ottawa Tourism’s website shortly.
Pre-COVID, visitors pumped more than $2.2 billion a year into Ottawa’s economy, and the city’s tourism industry employed more than 43,000 people.
But Crockatt told OBJ last month the region has lost more than $3 billion in visitor spending since the pandemic began.
“It’s almost too big of a number to even think about what that means,” he said. “The simple story is, it’s probably been the worst couple of years in this industry’s history.”
To help put the lustre back on the city’s image, Crockatt said Ottawa Tourism is planning to launch a multi-platform marketing campaign with the theme “Here to Inspire”, celebrating culture and creativity in the nation’s capital. It will feature the city’s museums, galleries, concert venues and festivals, which Crockatt calls “key differentiators”.
The campaign will target leisure travellers, tour groups, meeting and convention planners as well as sports organizers to make sure “they know what the real Ottawa is,” he added.
Ottawa Tourism’s annual budget was about $23 million before the pandemic, with the bulk of its cash flow coming from accommodation levies charged to hotel guests as well as other funding from various levels of government – income that was almost wiped out due to the sharp decline in visitor traffic since early 2020.
Still, Crockatt said he’s optimistic that the industry is on the verge of a comeback as pent-up demand for travel builds.
“We think there are some cool opportunities … to demonstrate to residents and visitors just how resilient and creative this community is,” he said. “As I talk to some of my friends around the country, I hear a lot more positivity, which I’m hoping is going to translate into visitation for us this summer.”