Mayor’s Address on Tourism and Canada's 150th Anniversary
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Let me begin by thanking The Kiwanis Club of Ottawa for your kind invitation, and to again thank you for the good work you do in our community.
For almost 100 years, your club has had a stellar reputation of giving back to our community in so many ways.
Today I want to talk to you about an issue that is both timely and important for our city, and really for our country.
As we are in the midst of celebrating the NHL’s All Star game, I think it’s appropriate to take stock of the importance Tourism plays in our local economy.
Intuitively, we know that Tourism is important to the local economy, but a look at some statistics gives one an ever better appreciation for how vital a healthy tourism sector is for our city and its workforce.
After the federal government and the Hi Tech sector, Tourism is the number three industry and job creator in Ottawa.
The industry generates over $2 billion for our local economy and supports over 26,000 jobs.
And our International Airport – which was recently recognized as the best mid-sized airport in the world, hosted almost 4.5 million passengers in 2010.
In years gone by, the industry and governments at all levels have rested on a couple of factors that made it relatively easy for the industry to thrive.
It wasn’t that long ago that our dollar was a bargain for American visitors, and that alone acted as a tremendous magnet to attract our American neighbours to come and visit.
And gas prices up until a few years ago were relatively inexpensive and predictable.
And crossing the border for an American was as easy as a Canadian travelling to another province.
Since the tragedy of 9/11, all of that has changed and it’s a lot tougher to attract Americans to come to our country, let alone our city.
So the Tourism industry was thrown for quite a spin, and it had to readjust or face some pretty severe consequences.
For several years I had the honour of heading the Canadian Tourism Commission – a federal crown corporation – who’s mandate was to promote Canada as a tourism destination.
After 9/11, our focus began to shift more to domestic tourism realizing that we would have to do a better job of encouraging Canadians to visit their own country because the American market would be a much tougher sell.
We weren’t going to give up on the US. Market, but with tougher passport requirements; a stronger Canadian dollar, and a greater reluctance on the part of Americans to travel, we knew our strategy had to focus to Canada and other emerging markets such as China.
During the last municipal election campaign, I talked about the need to better focus our economic development strategy.
Part of that focus will start to take shape next month when OCRI is redefined, refocused and rebranded as “InvestOttawa.”
More than a simple name change, City Council has invested core funds with an expectation of witnessing a laser-like focus on economic development – helping to attract new businesses to our city but also helping those already here to expand.
InvestOttawa has moved to a more central location just off Preston Street, and houses space for an incubation, the entrepreneurship centre; federal and provincial officials responsible for economic development, our new Ottawa film office – all with a renewed focus on creating jobs.
We know that when the Federal Finance Minister delivers is budget later this year, that our city will see fewer federal jobs, and most likely layoffs in addition to job cuts through attrition.
That’s why in our last budget, city council put aside $550,000 to help create a new special events office in collaboration with Ottawa Tourism, the private sector marketing organization tasked with growing our share of tourists in Ottawa.
The purpose of the office is to encourage more major national, and international events to hold their AGM’s, or conventions or events here in the Capital.
The funds will allow Tourism Ottawa to go after more events – events that fill hotels and restaurant and shops and taxis.
And of course create jobs in the hospitality sector.
The philosophy is straight forward:
Bid More – Win More – Host More.
And to date the strategy is paying off.
This weekend’s All Star game will generate $30 million in economic activity.
Hotels are at capacity.
The airport is running on all cylinders
150 countries around the world will see the game and our city in a positive light; more media are covering this game than the Stanley Cup Final.
You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
We have also secured the 2012 Juno Awards – the premier music awards show in Canada for April 1 at Scotiabank Place.
And we won the rights to the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s Tournament, and we’re on the shortlist for the FIFA World Cups in 2014 and 2015.
It is becoming increasingly more competitive to attract these kinds of events, and more expensive.
But with the City’s help, and the addition of the new Ottawa Convention Centre, and the new CE Trade Show centre by the airport, we have the means to host these kinds of events that create so much economic activity for our city.
But today I want to talk to you about an event that will take place in 1,984 days from today:
July 1st, 2017 – the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Many of us in this room remember the excitement and pride right across Canada when this national celebrated its Centennial in 1967.
While many of the activities surrounded Expo 67 and Man and his World in Montreal, we have reminders of the 100th anniversary all around us.
From the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill;
To Brewer Centennial Pool;
To Centennial School;
Today I want to spend the last few minutes of my talk discussing what I envision 2017 will look like for our city and its tourists and residents.
My goal is straightforward and ambitious.
Just as Montreal owned 1967; and Quebec City owned 2008 for its 400th anniversary and Vancouver owned 2010 for the Olympics and Toronto will own 2015 for the Pan Am Games;
I want Ottawa – our nation’s Capital – to own 2017 as the premier destination for tourists to visit from across Canada and around the world.
But in order to achieve this, we have to start working now to prepare for our country’s sesquicentennial.
That is why earlier this week in my annual State of the City Address, I asked Councillors Rainer Bloess and Katherine Hobbs to co-chair a task force on Canada’s 150th, that will be made up of key tourism partners from across the city.
Their mandate is direct and to the point.
We have to develop an action plan to go after all significant meetings, conventions, sporting and cultural events and ensure they are hosted in Ottawa in 2017.
What better place to host the Grey Cup, or the Juno Awards or Genie Awards than in Ottawa with the backdrop of Parliament Hill.
We will go after the dozens of national associations located right here in Ottawa and encourage them to all their Annual General Meetings here.
Same with our academic institutions and our federal partners for everything from Federal Provincial Ministers meetings to various national and international symposiums.
How can we convene the Kiwanis Club to hold one of their significant conventions here in 2017?
While part one of the Task Force’s mandate is to attract these kinds of events and activities, part two will be to ensure that we have new and exciting activities and venues to celebrate our nation’s capital.
I want to work with our federal partners including the National Capital Commission and other agencies to ensure that we start the planning now for a number of new initiatives that I believe would be excellent additions to our already strong line up of federal and municipal cultural attractions and museums.
The City has committed to an exciting renewal of our Arts Court facility on Daly Street, right behind the Rideau Centre.
This $36 million revitalization project will see an expanded Municipal Art Galley and performance space for dozens of local arts groups that help animate our city each and every year with festivals and exhibits.
One idea I raised during the election campaign envisions us turning Canada day into Canada week in time for 2017.
For years I have watched crews work for days to assemble the massive stages and lights for Canada Day.
I would like to see Canada Day in 2017 turn into Canada Week – why put so much time and money and effort into the massive infrastructure just to celebrate one day?
I think we can steal a page from the National Arts Centre that has run a series of tributes to the music and culture of Canada’s different regions through their very successful Atlantic and Prairie Scenes.
I would propose we work with the NAC and NCC, and the private sector and Provincial and Territorial governments to create a week long Canadian Cultural Festival starting on June 25th and going straight through with the culmination of a spectacular Canada Day show on the Hill on July 1st.
We could start off with The Atlantic Scene, followed by Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, B.C. and finally the Three Northern Territories.
We would invite residents from those regions to come and celebrate with their very own day on the Hill that celebrates their part of our great nation.
An up and coming indie band from Vancouver one day, followed by Inuit Throat singers the next ; fiddlers from Cape Breton and a country and western band from the Prairies, interspersed with big name Canadian performers who would allow us to showcase some of our best and most talented singers, dancers and performers.
The possibilities to celebrate our 150th anniversary are endless, and the once in a generation opportunities to grow our tourism industry are now before us.
Over the course of the next few months as our task force gets underway, we will welcome your ideas and visions and dreams for our Capital.
Just a few weeks ago, a great visionary and dreamer left us – Jean Pigott.
Mrs. Pigott believed in the old adage, “aim high, there’s plenty of room.”
She also once said that Ottawa should be every Canadian’s “second home town.”
Let’s pick up that spirit of patriotism and pride we all have for our country and our community, and let us be prepared to welcome Canadians and residents from around the world to the best capital city in the most blessed country in the world.