Vive la France: Ottawa Tourism boss hopes Paris trip builds bridges between two cities


Ottawa is “trending in the right direction” as a tourist destination for Parisians and visitors from other parts of Europe thanks to new direct flights between YOW and Paris, the CEO of Ottawa Tourism says.

Michael Crockatt was part of a seven-person contingent from Ottawa that flew to Paris last week on Air France’s new non-stop route to promote the National Capital Region to tourism industry insiders in France’s largest city.

“We’ve been engaged in France for a long time – we’ve never had that direct flight to really be able to talk about it as an advantage for Ottawa and get people excited about the connection,” Crockatt told OBJ. “That’s really what we were doing last week.”

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The group – which also included Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and Mark Laroche, president and CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority – spent four days in the City of Light, hosting two events that attracted a total of about 100 industry executives and influencers such as meeting and convention planners, tour operators, trade media and businesspeople.

Crockatt said many of the attendees were unaware of the breadth of outdoor activities and museums in Canada’s capital, or of its world-class convention facilities such as the Shaw Centre.

“That type of thing surprises them,” he said. “They could see that Ottawa might not be what they typically thought it is.”

While France is one of the top five countries of origin for overseas visitors to Ottawa, the overall number of international tourists who come to the city remains relatively small – accounting for only about five per cent of all visits.

Crockatt is hoping Air France’s new non-stop routes, which began on June 27, will help put Ottawa on the radar of more travellers from Paris and beyond. The airline is currently the only carrier offering direct trips between Canada’s capital and Europe.   

“We’re certainly going to do everything we can to build demand for that route,” he said. “From a tourism perspective, the hub in Paris is so incredibly valuable because it’s not just Parisians – everywhere in Europe, everywhere in the Middle East, Africa, India, they have a one-stop connection to get to Ottawa. That’s great for business.”  

So far, the new flights appear to be a hit. The Ottawa International Airport said Wednesday more than 4,000 passengers have already travelled between the two cities, and Air France announced the same day it will continue to offer the Ottawa-Paris flights five times a week throughout the winter.

Asked if Ottawa Tourism is lobbying the airline to add more flights, Crockatt said it will be up to local residents to convince Air France that additional trips would make economic sense.

“If we can demonstrate as a community that the demand is there, we’re pretty optimistic that they’ll see the same thing we see and hopefully be able to justify an increase at some point,” he said.

Crockatt said he believes the connections he and the other members of the Ottawa contingent made in Paris will pay off down the road. 

He’s hoping, for example, that foreign tour companies will now consider starting or finishing their itineraries in Ottawa and use YOW as a Canadian entry or exit point.

“Those are things that didn’t make as much sense when there wasn’t a direct flight back to Paris or from Paris,” Crockatt explained. 

“It’s early days yet for some of those people to start exploring that because their 2023 season was put in place a long time ago, but for them to start being able to think about how they might reshape things in ’24 or ’25, that’s exciting.”

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