Ottawa hotel industry gears up for historic year
Published on January 04, 2017
"Pretty spectacular’ array of events means downtown accommodations could be at a premium in 2017'
As a former general manager of two of Ottawa’s largest hotels, Pat Kelly is all too familiar with the peaks and valleys of an industry that tends to boom in the summer when tourists flock to the capital but can be sluggish at other times of the year – especially the dead of a Canadian winter.
But the hotelier-turned-travel consultant doesn’t see a lot of down time on the hotel calendar in 2017. With Ottawa being the focal point of many of the nation’s glitziest Canada 150 events, local hotels are revving up for what will almost certainly be their busiest year ever, he says. “I think the (Ottawa 2017 organizers) have done a very good job of spreading activities out throughout the year,” says Mr. Kelly, a former GM of the Westin and Chateau Laurier who now runs his own firm, Pat Kelly Consulting, and is a partner in another consulting enterprise, Floor13.
“Really, it begins with New Year’s Eve. Assuming that we get the hockey heritage game (the much-anticipated outdoor contest between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens) in December, it really is a 12-month program of some pretty spectacular events taking place. That will help to spread the business out, spread the demand out.” Many other industry insiders agree, pointing out that even the traditionally barren month of March will be livened up with events such as the Red Bull Crashed Ice championship, in which about 100 athletes from around the world will lace up their skates and zip down a 480-metre track of sharp turns and steep drops.
The event, which is taking place at the Rideau Canal locks, is expected to attract tens of thousands of spectators and generate up to $10 million in economic activity. That’s music to the ears of Chateau Laurier public relations director Deneen Perrin, whose hotel is right next door and stands to benefit in a major way from that and a host of other activities planned throughout the year.
“Everybody’s very pumped, very excited to be part of (the 2017 festivities) – to really put Ottawa on the map and to become the (tourist destination) we know we are and to be able to showcase that to the rest of the world,” she says. “We see this as a chance to be a springboard for the future.” The nation’s capital already has one of the lowest hotel vacancy rates in the country, even in years not jam-packed with marquee tourist events. In 2015, Ottawa tied Montreal for the third-highest average occupancy rate among Canada’s 12 major markets at 72 per cent, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE, and the city’s average daily rate ranked fourth behind Vancouver, Quebec City and Montreal. “You take that normal demand and layer on top of it the demand from 2017 events and activities – it’s shaping up to be a very, very strong year,” Mr. Kelly says.
David Smythe, general manager of the Lord Elgin Hotel, says the iconic lodging is expecting to have its busiest year ever.
The 355-room hotel, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016, recently invested more than $10 million into renovating every unit from top to bottom in anticipation of a major influx of visitors. The hotel is also planning to hire extra employees to deal with the increased volume. “Ottawa’s going to be seen in a completely new light,” Mr. Smythe says. “I think that image of boring Ottawa is going to be shattered in 2017.” Even Canada’s largest city is casting an envious glance toward its smaller provincial cousin’s full slate of celebrations marking the nation’s 150th anniversary, he says with a smile. “Toronto’s never looked at Ottawa that way before,” he says. Ms. Perrin agrees, saying Ottawa is positioning itself to move into the forefront of the tourism conversation.
“We’ve got infrastructure in place, we’ve got the LRT coming in 2018,” she notes. “It’s about people putting us on the map. We’ve changed. I think Ottawa has grown up. We’re no longer teenagers – we’re the hip new millennials.”
The best of Ottawa 2017
It’s never easy to pick just a handful of highlights from a slate of events as diverse as those planned for Ottawa’s Canada 150 celebrations – but with the help of expert input from Ottawa Tourism’s Jantine Van Kregten, OBJ has done just that. Here are some of our 2017 must-sees:
RED BULL CRASHED ICE
The final leg of the ice cross downhill world championship crashes the capital’s Canada 150 party in early March, with more than 100 athletes expected to hurtle down an icy track on the Rideau Canal locks at speeds of 50 km/h or more.
STANLEY CUP CELEBRATION
Countless Canadians have dreamed of hoisting Lord Stanley’s cherished mug, which is celebrating an iconic anniversary of its own in 2017 when it turns 125. This year also marks the centenary of the National Hockey League and the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Senators’ re-entry into the NHL, so it’s only fitting that the capital will host an array of events in March to toast hockey’s holy grail and our passion for the frozen game. They include a gala at the Canadian Museum of History featuring NHL alumni, Gov.-Gen. David Johnston welcoming the trophy’s return to Rideau Hall, a meet-and-greet with NHL legends, a tribute concert and the dedication of the new Stanley Cup monument on Sparks Street.
End of June to September
Billed as “an ultimate underground experience,” this interactive multimedia show is produced by Moment Factory, the Montreal company that was also behind the Mosaika sound and light production on Parliament Hill. Set in the future Lyon light-rail station slated to open next year on the western edge of the downtown core, the free production will highlight the LRT project and its role in transforming Ottawa’s transportation system.
CANADA 150 PARTY
One hundred and fifty years to the day after the British North America Act of 1867 came into effect, the Shaw Centre will host the biggest birthday bash the country has ever seen, complete with cuisine from some of Canada’s top chefs and an eclectic mix of live music and theatre performances. What better view of the fireworks than from the convention centre’s breathtaking glass facade?
Fire-breathing dragons, gargantuan spiders and other large-scale machines are set to take over downtown in late July – a spectacle that is the brainchild of French production company La Machine, which is bringing its creations to North America for the first time. Another free event, this one is sure to thrill and awe spectators of all ages.
105TH GREY CUP AND FESTIVAL
With the possible exception of the Stanley Cup, no trophy is more emblematic of sport in this country than the Canadian Football League’s championship mug. The CFL’s resurgence in the nation’s capital – thanks to a strong, committed local ownership group, a spiffy new stadium and a revitalized fan base – means Ottawa is sure to host one heck of a grand national party in late November. Being the home of the defending champs doesn’t hurt either, and the RedBlacks would love nothing more than to reward the city with a third straight Cup appearance, this time in the friendly confines of TD Place on Nov. 26.