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'It's Decimating': Ottawa's tourism and hotel industry hit hard by COVID-19
OTTAWA -- The ByWard Market is usually bustling with locals and tourists, but lately it’s been virtually empty.
Businesses are either closed or reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The drop in visitors has seen business at places such as Beavertails plummet.
“Let’s say it’s gone from 100 to .05,” said Grant Hooker, owner of several Beavertails in Ottawa.
The market staple is celebrating its 40th anniversary much differently than Hooker anticipated.
“I think everybody is saying this is a world like we’ve never seen it in our lifetime, in my lifetime. I’m not even supposed to be out here, because I’m over 60,” he said.
The hotel industry is devastated, with staff at the Westin Hotel calling this an “emotional time.”
“Cancellations of meetings and conventions and the expected time it takes to ramp up. Easily, we’ve lost a million dollars in this city,” said Steve Ball with the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.
Meanwhile, the century-old Fairmont Chateau Laurier announced it is temporarily closing, effective Saturday.
The Alt Hotel on Slater Street temporarily suspended its service on Wednesday after occupancy was at an all-time low.
According to the hotel association, tourism brings in roughly $2.2 billion annually to Ottawa’s economy, but it expects half of that will be lost this year.
“My expectation is because occupancy is hovering far less than 10 per cent, some cases three or four per cent. It’s actually smarter for a hotel property to shut down until all of this is over,” Ball said.
The Hotel Association of Canada estimates 80 to 90 per cent of the country’s hotels will close because of COVID-19.
Since Canada’s 150 celebrations in 2017, a record-breaking number of tourists have visited the Capital.
However, with so many events cancelled or postponed, Ottawa Tourism is focused on how to recover.
“Our job right now is get some of that relief flowing right now. Our marketing team is really focused on the recovery side of it. How do we make sure we are first off the mark at getting people back to Ottawa - once people are ready to travel again,” said Michael Crockatt, with Ottawa Tourism.
The federal government has announced a $25-billion aid package for Canadians to help soften the impact of the virus.
While most Canadians are separated due to social-distancing, Hooker believes we’re connected now more than ever.
“Maybe this is going to bring us closer to each other around the globe. You may say that I’m a dreamer.”
Meantime, the City of Ottawa is considering using hotels and other properties for people who need to self-isolate.
It’s not clear when or if that will happen, but OGHA said the industry is always willing to help.