Pandemic could cost city $1.4B in tourism this year

Tourism officials expect the first steps toward recovery to include hyper-local travel, while small businesses are urging residents to buy local rather than through e-commerce giants.

Advocates urging residents to buy local to help businesses recover

Ricky Langlois takes a photo of Stephanie Duquette on his motorbike in front of the Ottawa sign in the ByWard Market on April 4, 2020. The normally busy retail and entertainment district is quiet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

It's tourism week in Canada, but the "mood is very different this year" in one of the sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 shutdown, says the CEO of Ottawa Tourism.

"Part of the reason tourism is so hard hit is that tourism is a perishable good," Michael Crockatt told an online town hall meeting about how Ottawa's economy might recover from pandemic.

"An unsold hotel room night or an unsold boat tour is gone forever and can't be saved up to be sold at a later date." 

The challenge will be to rebuild a sector that employed 43,000 people locally and brought in $2.2 billion in spending by visitors each year. Ottawa Tourism's analysis shows the city's tourism sector could miss out on two-thirds of that spending this year, or $1.4 billion, with all the cancelled festivals, meetings and other events.

Ottawa Tourism is closely watching research about how people might resume travel. Crockatt predicts "hyper-local" trips and "staycations" to come first, followed by road trips in the region and province because people are more comfortable in their own vehicles right now.

That said, Crockatt expects tourism to be an industry that is among the last to recover.

Buy local, business advocates urge

The town hall also included leaders from the Ottawa Board of Trade, the Regroupement des gens d'affaires de la capitale nationale and the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas.

Small business is especially hurting, said Mark Kaluski, chair of the BIA coalition. He noted that while small shops did their part and remained closed, grocery stores remained open, selling such items as kids' toys and dishes.

Mark Kaluski, chair of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas, took part in Friday's town hall. (Submitted by Mark Kaluski)

Buying local rather than from an e-commerce giant is the most important thing residents can do to help the economy recover, Kaluski said.

"That package on the front doorstep is easy, but your money is just evaporating out of our economy," he said.

He also urged Ottawans not to use third-party apps for delivery from restaurants because they take up to one-third of the price of a food order. Better, he said, to contact the restaurant directly and pick up a meal.

Mayor Jim Watson noted that the hundreds of small tech companies, restaurants and retailers especially, form the "backbone of our economy."

"We are doing whatever we can to ensure the survival of some of these businesses when they're given the green light to open up," Watson said.

While municipalities have limited tools, Ottawa has provided a toolkit for how to reopen as the pandemic wanes. The city has deferred taxes and is and setting its sights on projects that could create local jobs, such as the new sound stage in the Greenbelt, officials said.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now