Ottawa could see a return to pre-pandemic visitor spending levels as early as next year, a top tourism official said Wednesday as the local industry’s main marketing agency unveiled a 10-year blueprint for attracting more travellers to the National Capital Region.
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Ottawa could see a return to pre-pandemic visitor spending levels as early as next year, a top tourism official said Wednesday as the local industry’s main marketing agency unveiled a 10-year blueprint for attracting more travellers to the National Capital Region. Catherine Callary, vice-president of destination development at Ottawa Tourism, told a lunch crowd at the Shaw Centre that some forecasts show the city is on track to generate as much spending from tourists in 2023 as it did in 2019, when it attracted 11 million visitors who injected a collective $2.2 billion into the local economy. Speaking at the annual Ottawa Economic Outlook event hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade, Callary highlighted key elements of Ottawa Tourism’s recently completed Destination Stewardship Plan, which aims to chart a long-term path to recovery for the local sector. Produced by Ottawa Tourism in partnership with Resonance Consultancy, the 66-page report gathered data from interviews with industry experts, surveys of visitors and local residents, as well as social media platforms and sites such as Tripadvisor to create a “plan to sink our collective teeth into,” Callary said. The study found that Ottawa ranked highest among all major Canadian cities for outdoor activities such as water sports, boat tours and parks. Among its major recommendations is developing new “outdoor gathering spaces” that can become four-season venues for attracting sporting events and other tourist attractions. “Ottawa tops the charts when it comes to outdoor offerings,” Callary said. “It really is an outdoor adventure city, and that’s something that we really have to start highlighting more in our collective marketing.” Karen Sparks, the executive director of Nepean’s Wesley Clover Parks, agreed. Speaking during a panel discussion following Callary’s remarks, Sparks said Ottawa needs to “lean into” its reputation as a winter sports mecca to lure more outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travellers. The report also calls on tourism officials to work with Ottawa’s airport authority and other government officials to restore international routes that were suspended during the pandemic. While noting that restoring flights to overseas destinations such as Frankfurt will “take some time as international travel volume recovers and new, more fuel-efficient aircraft are delivered over the next few years,” the report’s authors say Ottawa must strive to become “a strong regional hub with both traditional and emerging carriers” if it wants to compete with the likes of Toronto and Montreal. Business leaders cheered the recommendation, saying better connections from Ottawa’s airport will make the region a more attractive destination for workers and tourists alike. “It’s a problem that we have to work our way through,” Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay said after the presentation. “It’s going to take time to work through it. The single most important thing that we can all do as an economy is to drive demand (for more direct flights to Europe and other international destinations). Without demand, we are not going to attract the flights that we want to have. We have to really stay strong and vigilant on that one.” Among the report’s other key recommendations are expanding the city’s growing list of festivals and major events, pushing for the construction of a new arena and events centre at LeBreton Flats, enhancing Ottawa’s cultural offerings, promoting the local music industry, and supporting the creation of more Indigenous tourism experiences. Tremblay lauded the report, saying it offers a blueprint for leaders from all industries to follow as they work together to promote the region as a great place to live and visit. “At the end of the day, people will ultimately work where they want to work now,” he said. “What’s going to attract the best talent in the world? It’s having amenities and things that are exciting. We need to think big and bold now in terms of what we want our city to be.” The study comes in the wake of a two-year stretch that saw tourist traffic to Ottawa plummet amid COVID-related travel restrictions. Ottawa Tourism officials estimate that, from the beginning of the pandemic to the end of 2022, the nation’s capital will have lost $3 billion in visitor spending.