Friday, July 19, 2024

Ottawa counts on Bluesfest for more than music — Here’s how

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Roughly 30 per cent of Bluesfest’s audience are tourists coming to Ottawa from beyond 40 kilometres away, said executive director Mark Monahan.

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As Ottawa’s summer festival season moves into high gear, the city’s tourism sector is hoping for business to swell.

“All the summer festivals are appealing and draw people from all over Canada and the world,” said Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association. “With Bluesfest starting… we should see an uptick in business over the next two weeks.”

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Jérôme Miousse, the director of public affairs for Ottawa Tourism, says that as the sector has recovered during the last two years, the burst of early summer events in the city, including the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Escapade Musical Festival, Canada Day, Music & Beyond and Bluesfest Ottawa are “travel instigators” that lead to increases in visitation.

“Looking at how the-June through-August summer period is shaping up this year versus last, we are anticipating a slight growth over 2023 levels for the same period, which were still under 2019 levels of visitation, but in which our visitor economy had really recovered substantially,” Miousse said.

“This forecasting gets us close to pre-pandemic levels of visitors in 2024.”

Before the pandemic, Ottawa had a record-setting year for tourism in 2017, when visitors marked Canada’s sesquicentennial in the national capital region. That year, Ottawa hosted the Juno Awards, the Grey Cup, and the NHL 100 Classic outdoor hockey game, to name just a few of the special events that coincided with Canada’s 150th anniversary.

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While the record was expected to stand for a while, 2018 was just as busy and 2019 was even better. Then, in 2020, the pandemic brought tourism to a screeching halt, and four years later, it continues to make up lost ground.

The 2023 Downtown Revitalization Task Force report cites an Ottawa Tourism statistic that the city welcomes 11 million tourists annually.

The weather this summer will make a difference, Miousse added. It’s not unusual for visitors who live within driving distance of Ottawa to make last-minute decisions to come for a quick getaway, said Miousse.

Between 25 and 30 per cent of Bluesfest’s audience, or roughly 75,000 people, are tourists coming to Ottawa from beyond 40 kilometres away, said Bluesfest’s executive director Mark Monahan.

Mark Monahan
About 25 to 30 per cent of Bluesfest visitors come from out of town, says festival executive director Mark Monahan. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

About three-quarters of the tourists come to Ottawa specifically for Bluesfest, or have Bluesfest as one of their reasons for coming to Ottawa, Bluesfest estimates. Of them, about 30 per cent stay in a hotel. The annual economic impact of the tourists is just over $40 million.

After Bluesfest concludes on July 14, the next major music festival in the city is Chamberfest, which runs from July 25 to Aug. 8 and will mark its 30th anniversary edition this year.

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Last year, more than one in five attendees at Chamberfest was a tourist, based on a definition that says a tourist lives either at least 40 kilometres from Ottawa in Ontario or in another province, says that festival’s executive director Mhiran Faraday.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival, which ran this year from June 21 to 30, was to determine its attendance numbers early to mid July. In 2023, that event attracted about 180,000 attendees, of which 22,670, or 12.6 per cent, were tourists, according to its annual media marketing report. About 85 per cent of those tourists came to Ottawa specifically for the festival, said the report.

More than half of jazz festival’s tourists last year (about 12,870) came from Ontario and more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa, while 4,500 came from Quebec, more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa. Almost 3,200 came from the U.S., while about 1,850 came from the rest of Canada and 270 were international travellers.

Stefanie Siska, co-owner of C’est Bon Ottawa, says the tourist season brings many travel writers to the city, who encourage their readers to visit the capital. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

Stefanie Siska, chair of Ottawa Tourism’s board of directors and the co-owner of C’est Bon Ottawa, a food-tour and cooking-class company, said tourists coming to Ottawa for major events also spend their money at businesses such as hers.

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“We’ve definitely had people take our food tours as a result of attending a festival,” said Siska.

“It’s also interesting that we’re seeing a lot more travel writers doing our tours around the time of festivals and major events,” she added. “It’s not surprising that they want to make the most of their time here, but it also means their readers are looking to do the same.”

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