OTTAWA -- The COVID-19 pandemic will cost Ottawa’s tourism sector an estimated $1 billion, but Ottawa Tourism is confident the tourists will return to the capital when the travel restrictions are lifted.

“The good news is that throughout history, people do want to travel,” said Michael Crockatt, President and CEO of Ottawa Tourism, adding Ottawa attracts a healthy mix of visitors during a year.

“Tourism and travel are pretty resilient and they will bounce back. We’re not expecting it to be a full 100 per cent bounce back right away to what it was pre-COVID, but we are confident that people will still want to travel, will want to explore and will want to come to Ottawa.”

Crockatt tells that Ottawa Tourism is developing a marketing plan to attract tourists back to Ottawa when the restrictions are lifted.

Several popular festivals and events have been cancelled this spring and summer in Ottawa, including Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. The Canadian Tulip Festival is moving all events online for its May event.

Many school tours and tour operators have also had to cancel trips to Ottawa during the pandemic.

Crockatt says visitors typically inject $2.2 billion a year into Ottawa’s economy.  Some forecasts for Ottawa Tourism show the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and calls for physical distancing will cost the city’s economy more than $1 billion this year.

“it’s a huge impact on those businesses that depend on the visitor economy in one way or another. A $1 billion hit is one that you don’t recover from very quickly,” said Crockatt.

Ottawa Tourism estimates 43,000 people were employed in sectors that benefit from Ottawa’s tourism economy before the pandemic started. Many hotels and restaurants in Ottawa have closed due to the pandemic restrictions, while all museums and tourist destinations are shut down.

The Ontario Government unveiled a three-phase approach to easing the COVID-19 measures earlier this week, including the gradual reopening of businesses. Ottawa Tourism is currently doing research to “get the timing and messaging just right” for when the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted so Ottawa is seen as a destination.

“We need to be ready to market and we’re creating some of those marketing campaigns and ideas as we speak,” said Crockatt, adding Ottawa Tourism is looking at how the physical distancing restrictions will be eased and how it would impact the tourism sector moving forward.

“We’re trying to be smarter, more targeted and more strategic than any of our competition will be because we know that everybody’s going be entering the market again around the same time. So we got to outsmart them to get Ottawa at the top of everybody’s to-do list.”

Crockatt says there is an expectation that travel will resume with a focus on “hyper-local” trips by people staying close to home, before branching out to provincial and national travel destinations.

“If travel restrictions are in such a position that people can travel domestically within Canada, this city has a pretty incredible story to tell about the story of Canada,” said Crockatt, adding there is a Canadian reason to visit the capital after the pandemic.

“We talk about a lot of the big historical moments and decisions in Canadian history have taken place right in this city, and this past couple of months the same thing has happened – a lot of big decisions and big things have happened right here in Ottawa.”

Crockatt says Ottawa Tourism has been working with the City of Ottawa and the upper levels of government to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and what the new normal will look like when the restrictions are lifted.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage Lisa MacLeod told CTV News Ottawa last week that 2021 will be viewed as a “marquee year” for tourism. Staff at Ottawa Tourism are always working ahead to book tour groups, school tours, conventions and other events for future years.

Crockatt says Ottawa has a “diverse mix of visitors”, including conventions, school groups and tours, which are valuable for all parts of the tourism economy in Ottawa.

“2020 is going to be a different year because there just won’t be as many of those festivals, cultural events, conventions and sporting events that bring people to the city. So it’s going to be a different mix,” said Crockatt.

“If all goes well, and if the world, our city, our province and our country are able to successfully navigate our way through this health crisis then we hope 2021 is a banner year for tourism in our region.”