Ot­tawa’s brand needs a boost, tourism sum­mit told

City scores well over­all as a des­ti­na­tion, sur­vey says, but needs to do a bet­ter job of defin­ing it­self to po­ten­tial trav­ellers

Ottawa Business Journal - - Tourism - BY DAVID SALI david@obj.ca

Ot­tawa rates high as an over­all travel des­ti­na­tion in a new sur­vey, but the city lags be­hind many other ma­jor Cana­dian cities in air ac­cess and needs to bet­ter de­fine its iden­tity in mar­ket­ing cam­paigns if it hopes to fully cash in on its po­ten­tial, of­fi­cials at a re­cent tourism sum­mit were told.

“Over­all, I would say Ot­tawa is do­ing fairly well,” said Paul Ouimet, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Des­ti­na­tion NEXT, which con­ducted the sur­vey of 200 mem­bers of the lo­cal tourism in­dus­try, busi­nesses, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and trav­ellers in April and May. “You’re start­ing from a po­si­tion of strength.”

The city com­pared favourably with more than 250 other des­ti­na­tions the or­ga­ni­za­tion has sur­veyed around the world in over­all strength as a tourist des­ti­na­tion – a cat­e­gory that en­com­passes el­e­ments such as at­trac­tions and en­ter­tain­ment, events, sports and re­cre­ation fa­cil­i­ties and con­ven­tion spa­ces – as well as com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, he told the au­di­ence at the Shaw Cen­tre.

But he said Ot­tawa scored lower in cat­e­gories such as in­ter­na­tional air ac­cess and brand, a “bit of a red flag” that sug­gests in­dus­try groups such as Ot­tawa Tourism need to do a bet­ter job of sell­ing vis­i­tors on the city’s many as­sets such as its nat­u­ral beauty, world-class mu­se­ums and other cul­tural at­trac­tions.

While Ot­tawa’s tourism or­ga­ni­za­tions and var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment ap­pear to be on same page when it comes to how to pro­mote the city, they can’t rest on their lau­rels, Mr. Ouimet added. A des­ti­na­tion’s brand is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as cities look to stand out from the crowd in the ever-more com­pet­i­tive tourism busi­ness, he said.

“There’s a lot of other com­mu­ni­ties that are com­ing af­ter you,” he said. “It’s re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to con­tinue to push the en­ve­lope.”

Steve Ball, pres­i­dent of the Ot­tawa Gatineau Ho­tel As­so­ci­a­tion, said brand­ing has long been a chal­lenge for the tourism in­dus­try in Ot­tawa be­cause many trav­ellers closely as­so­ciate the na­tion’s cap­i­tal with the gov­ern­ment of the day.

“Do we want a brand that’s in­de­pen­dent of gov­ern­ment or not?” he said in an in­ter­view with OBJ af­ter Mr. Ouimet’s pre­sen­ta­tion. “That can work in your favour and that can work against you. It’s one of the things that needs to be fig­ured out.”

The rise of peer re­view sites on so­cial me­dia means it’s more im­por­tant than ever for tourist at­trac­tions to de­liver unique ex­pe­ri­ences that sat­isfy cus­tomers who can make or break a des­ti­na­tion with their in­stant cri­tiques, Mr. Ouimet said.

“You can have the great­est sales cam­paign in the world,” he told the crowd of nearly 300 tourism and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. “If you have a bad ex­pe­ri­ence at a meet­ing and con­ven­tion or for leisure vis­i­tors, you can ab­so­lutely be mas­sa­cred on peer-to-peer sites.”

“Do we want a brand that’s in­de­pen­dent of gov­ern­ment or not? That can work in your favour and that can work against you. It’s one of the things that needs to be fig­ured out.”— STEVE BALL, PRES­I­DENT OF THE OT­TAWA GATINEAU HO­TEL AS­SO­CI­A­TION

Ot­tawa Tourism CEO Michael Crock­att said that means or­ga­ni­za­tions such as his need to work harder to use so­cial me­dia plat­forms to their ad­van­tage.

“A brand is no longer just what we are telling peo­ple it is,” he said. “We have to be en­gag­ing with vis­i­tors while they’re here, be­cause they’re the ones who are shap­ing our brand out there through their so­cial me­dia chan­nels and the sto­ries they’re telling their fam­i­lies.”

Lo­cal tourism of­fi­cials also agreed Ot­tawa would ben­e­fit from more in­ter­na­tional air con­nec­tions but said the in­dus­try needs to ex­pand fur­ther be­fore that will hap­pen.

“Un­til we have that crit­i­cal mass that jus­ti­fies hav­ing di­rect routes to more lo­ca­tions, that’s go­ing to come with time as our mar­ket­place grows,” said Mr. Ball. “I think we need to fo­cus on the lowhang­ing fruit – ar­eas where there is easy ac­cess and di­rect routes, par­tic­u­larly ... the north­ern U.S., and max­i­mize those first.”

Guy Laflamme, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ot­tawa 2017 Bureau that is plan­ning the cap­i­tal’s Canada 150 cel­e­bra­tions, said the year-long party will raise the city’s pro­file and help make it a more at­trac­tive air travel route.

“If we make 2017 a huge suc­cess, which we will, as a re­sult this will in­crease the in­ter­est of trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies to im­prove ser­vice to Ot­tawa,” he said. “When they see in­creased level of de­mand, that’s the best ar­gu­ment you can use to con­vince Air Canada, WestJet, Porter or VIA to in­crease the ser­vic­ing vol­ume and level to our city.”

Mr. Ouimet also said many sur­vey re­spon­dents pointed to the Rideau Canal as a un­der­de­vel­oped tourism as­set, adding the on­go­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work on Par­lia­ment Hill has posed a chal­lenge for the lo­cal in­dus­try lately be­cause the Hill’s ma­jes­tic vis­tas have been ob­structed by scaf­fold­ing.

“That is a ma­jor, iconic at­trac­tion,” Mr. Ouimet said. “To have that boarded up … is go­ing to be a ma­jor is­sue.”

PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW MEADE

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: The Rideau Canal at­tracts lo­cal res­i­dents and out-oftown vis­i­tors alike year­round and is one of the city’s most well-known yet un­tapped tourism as­sets, a re­cent sur­vey says; work­ers get Par­lia­ment Hill ready for Canada Day; kayak­ers en­joy a sunny trip on the canal.

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