New tourism boss aims to sell Ottawa to Canadians

Ottawa Tourism is in a period of transition, with new president Noel Buckley taking office Jan. 7, and a new financial structure after the city pulled its funding last year.

Buckley says the City of Ottawa has helped in other ways, if not through marketing.

The city has committed $40 million to the rebuilding of the Ottawa Congress Centre (OCC).

$100 million in additional funding is coming from the provincial and federal governments.

The current OCC will be demolished this fall, and an entirely new building will replace it by April 2011, says Lynne Martichenko, OCC’s manager of communications.

The new building is expected to be almost three times the size of the old one.

Buckley says this will help Ottawa Tourism’s future plans, as they seek to grow Ottawa as a convention destination.

“I think meeting and convention business is an important part of the tourism industry in Ottawa,” Buckley says.

“Clearly, it will become a more important part as we develop new infrastructure, such as the new development the Ottawa Congress Centre is planning.”

Despite the city’s funding cut, Buckley says Ottawa Tourism isn’t in financial trouble due to a voluntary fee from Ottawa hotels.

The Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association (OGHA) created the Destination Marketing Fee.

It takes three per cent of the charge from room bookings in participating Ottawa hotels.

The fee then goes to a fund set aside for Ottawa Tourism and marketing.

Dick Brown, OCHA executive director, says the fee was first introduced in 2004.

It came in response to fewer visitors coming to Ottawa and other destinations across Ontario.

Brown says he expects the fee to generate $7 million in 2008.

He calls the lack of city funding for Ottawa Tourism “disappointing.”

He says marketing is one of the most important ways to keep people coming to Ottawa.

“Marketing is the lifeblood of tourism,” Brown says.

“We’re not going anywhere if we don’t know anything about it.”

But, Buckley says the shift could signal a different sort of partnership between Ottawa Tourism and the city.

“Investing in the Ottawa Congress Centre is a good thing,” he says.

“The (OGHA) wants to ensure the funds that are voluntarily collected are used for marketing, and the city’s role may be in the infrastructure side.”

Buckley says Canadians typically make up 80 to 85 per cent of Ottawa tourists.

But, attracting them is more than just simple business – it’s a matter of national pride.

“It’s a bit of an emotional sell,” says Buckley.

“Canadians need to want to come visit their national institutions in the same way Americans want to go to Washington at some point.

“Ottawa is the keeper of our national history and our national institutions,” he says.

“I’m passionate about that. I think it’s something Canadians should and must continue to be reminded of, that this is what Ottawa is," he says. "It’s the nation’s capital.”

Overall, Buckley says he’s looking forward to his first year on the job.

“I am very excited to be here.”

“Ottawa is a great destination. It has a great many opportunities," he says.

"I look forward to working with all the partners in the region to continue to market Ottawa as one of the best destinations in the entire country."