OTTAWA -- The global pandemic has taken a big bite out of Ottawa and Ontario’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

Dozens of festivals and events have been cancelled this spring and summer due to COVID-19, and some may not survive when the physical distancing requirements are lifted.

Tulips budding along Queen Elizabeth Drive near Dow’s Lake Pavilion have been doing so for 75 years. A token of gratitude from the Dutch royal family for having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family for three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

The ensuing festival that surrounds the flowers there and at Commissioners Park, has become the longest running one in the capital. It’s also one the highest attended events as well.

The festival draws in more than 700,000 people from across Canada and the world, generating nearly $140-million for the city. This year’s Canadian Tulip Festival is moving online, as COVID-19 hits festivals as well.

“There’s no doubt that this is a big impact on the community,” says Jo Riding of the Canadian Tulip Festival.

“Its the hoteliers, its the restaurants, its the artists and the performers that would have been showcased at the festival.”

Hilton Garden Inn downtown General Manager Denis Gilles has felt that impact.  Since March, on any oven day, only 30 rooms of the 346 at the downtown Ottawa hotel are filled. Staff layoffs have been overwhelming but necessary to stay afloat, with only 14 employees left to run the entire hotel.

“In the summertime 90 per cent of the business is tourism for restaurants and hotels, it won’t happen this year even if it’s back it won’t happen,” said Gilles.

The Hotel Association of Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada have released grim numbers on the impact of COVID-19.

In the Ottawa-Gatineau area there are nearly 100 hotels that employ more than 6,000 people. Currently, 50 per cent are temporarily closed, and more than 80 per cent of the employees have lost their job.

"COVID-19 has had a dramatic and severe impact on the tourism industry in every corner of our province,” says Beth Potter, president and CEO of TIAO. “Businesses are closing, revenues have fallen off a cliff, staff are being laid off and seasonal businesses will not open in the summer.”

Tourism in Ontario is a $36 billion industry and an integral part of the economy for many communities. According to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, from April 1 to April 6, 2020:

  • 59 per cent of tourism businesses are closed temporarily.
  • More than 21 per cent are at risk of closing permanently in three months’ time.
  • Nearly 59 per cent are at risk of closing temporarily in 3 months’ time.
  • 38 per cent of tourism businesses have laid off staff, and of those 42 per cent have laid off up to 100 per cent of their staff

As for the Canadian Tulip Festival, it will continue in a virtual space. Riding’s plan is to have performances, prizing and the rich history of the relationship between Canada and the Dutch in what she calls “armchair tourism”.

Helping out seasonal vendors by creating an online shop to display and sell their tulip-crafts.

And while the toll of a global pandemic has been hard, Riding wants to ensure we continue to commemorate the liberation of the Netherlands and to not forget that some sacrifices are harder than others.