Canada

COVID-19 hits Ottawa’s tourism sector; hotel bookings down 70 per cent in 2020

OTTAWA —
As the COVID-19 stay-at-home order enters a second week in Ontario, the impact is felt across the entire tourism industry in Ottawa.

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is one of Ottawa’s premier destinations. Pre-COVID, the 426-room hotel would be preparing for a flood of visitors heading into what would have been Winterlude and closing in on 80 per cent occupancy. 

Today, Deneen Perrin, director of public relations at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, says there are only a few handfuls of guests. 

Now it is a matter of keeping the doors open. The hotels restaurant, Zoey’s, is offering take-out and delivery of meals as well as their popular high tea package. 

“We’re doing what we can to keep things going into welcome to guess who need to come to the city,” says Perrin. 

Hotels are essential but demand isn’t there. 2020 saw a nearly 70 per cent slump in hotel visits, which has a ripple effect on the economy. 

Catherine Callary, vice-president of destination development with Ottawa Tourism, says there are many components to the ecosystem of tourism in Ottawa. 

Visitors who come to the city spend cash at shops and restaurants; there are tour groups and business trips. Ottawa Tourism sector normally generates $2.2 billion in revenue; last year $1.4 billion was lost to COVID.

“We are years away from recovery, not months,” says Callary, adding that when the lockdown is lifted hyper-local or staycations will likely pick up. “After that starts to recover, it is probably interprovincial travel and from their domestic travel.”

The return of international visitors could be as far away as 2025. Ottawa Tourism has created virtual tours of attractions throughout the city to help keep Ottawa top of mind for when travel can resume. 

Conventions likely won’t resume anytime soon. The Westin Ottawa’s general manager Ross Meredith says that part of the business will be the toughest to recover. Instead he has his eye on what he believes will be a robust summer, saying people have missed out on many birthdays and special occasions. 

“Everyone will want to do some pent up travel on the leisure side and we’ll be ready. We’re excited for it and we’re looking forward to it,” says Meredith. 

And within eyeshot is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, where Perrin echoes the same sentiments. 

“People are going to be ready to get outside their four walls and we are going to be ready to welcome them back.”

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