From ‘Oh’ to ‘Ah’: Ottawa Tourism’s secrets for success

When you’re exploring a city, the best discovery is one that totally reframes your experience and connects with you on a very personal level. It’s these little moments of transformative joy that Ottawa Tourism is putting in the spotlight with their latest campaign, “Oh to Ah” – which also puns on the city’s name itself.

We caught up with Glenn Duncan, Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer of Ottawa Tourism, to understand what the team’s recipe for success is, how they’re surfacing hidden gems in the city, and why collaborative partnerships are so important for the city’s future.

What new project or initiative in your pipeline are you most excited about?


Right now, our brand and our reputation as a G7 capital city is strong, as is our track record of hosting large international conferences and sport events. But there is much more we can do to speak to the individual leisure traveller and to increase our market share from within that group who have strong intentions to visit Canada. We are currently undertaking a research project that will allow us to better understand the current strength of our brand and help us to build the foundation for a solid marketing plan going forward.

In addition to future campaigns, we’re excited about our new “Oh to Ah” campaign – the playfulness that this shows, and the experimental nature of it in terms of trusting that audiences will come along with us on this play on the spelling of OTTAWA, and seeing how this campaign plays out in the market. The next 3 years will see us increase our investment in key international markets. Layer this on top of the many visitor-friendly infrastructure projects that are due to take place over the next decade and one can see why we are so optimistic and excited about the future of tourism in Ottawa!

How are you working to unearth hidden gems in your destination and encourage visitors to explore Ottawa more deeply? 


Ottawa Tourism takes multiple approaches to unearthing and developing hidden gems in our destination, and encouraging visitors to explore more deeply. On the side of marketing, one highly successful campaign that we did in 2023 was our Unofficial Museums campaign, playing on Ottawa’s renown as a museum destination given that 7 of Canada’s 9 national museums are located in this city, its capital. In this campaign, we celebrated over 100 hidden gems of our destination by granting them museum status (albeit unofficial!) and highlighting their quirky and unique visitor experiences. In doing this and shining the spotlight on lesser-known treasures in our destination, we encouraged visitors not only to see the hero sights in our city, but also to get to know our off-the-beaten track sites, from vintage stores to bakeries to vinyl record shops and so much more.

In terms of developing more such hidden gems, our Destination Development team works with local entrepreneurs to fine-tune and strengthen new product that they are creating, often providing funding to these initiatives through our Destination Development Fund. Funding like this has seen the establishment of waterfront tourism initiatives, new tours, a zipline, an Indigenous art market and café, and a holiday market, among many other experiences. Through this team, we undertake in-depth research on what’s available and what’s missing in our destination (through gap analyses and experience audits), and we monitor trends in visitor interests and behaviours in order to ensure our destination serves visitors in meaningful and relevant ways.


What do you find is most effective when it comes to partnering with your neighbouring cities and regions to tell a broader story about your place?


We have always approached our marketing and storytelling with the visitor experience in mind. The visitor does not care where borders begin or end. Partnering with our neighbouring cities and communities only strengthens those stories and, ultimately, the experience for all visitors.

In addition to this, we have been able to create some fun and cheeky campaigns with the cooperation of our “bigger” neighbouring cities, and traditional competitive set, ie: Montreal and Toronto. I believe this illustrates a uniquely Canadian approach to how we market as a country, as well as our playful spirit and willingness to experiment.


We heard at last year’s City Nation Place Global about Destination Canada’s Wealth and Wellbeing Index. How are you working at a city level to re-think the metrics you use to determine the impact of your work?


Ottawa Tourism’s Destination Development team was involved in the engagement sessions around the Wealth and Wellbeing Index. The Index is aligned with Ottawa Tourism’s perspective that tourism is an asset for a community, that tourism enhances the quality of life and the overall prosperity of a place, and can offer benefits to residents by adding to a destination’s vitality.

As an early adopter of this outlook on tourism, Ottawa Tourism had worked with a local tech start-up starting in 2019 to measure both resident and visitor Net Promoter Score for Ottawa, leaving us with a strong dataset on the question of visitor experience on one hand, and resident pride on the other. Having benefited from this data over the last 5 years, Ottawa Tourism is already in a strong position to add depth to its Social ROI metrics. For instance, Ottawa Tourism is supporting its tourism community to improve its overall accessibility and inclusivity through funding for experience enhancements in accessibility and is undertaking an Accessibility Audit to add depth to metrics on the share of businesses with universal access in our destination.


I saw that you’re partnering with a local organisation to reduce food waste at events. How can destinations take the lead on key social issues such as this?


Leverage the power of partnerships! There is so much incredible work happening in every destination being led by community groups and businesses that may or may not be part of your existing tourism network. As a DMO, our biggest opportunity to create impact is by leveraging the strength of partners to tackle issues that we cannot address on our own.

A couple years ago, we led the work to develop a Destination Stewardship Plan for Ottawa, which outlines the priority areas of focus and growth for our destination. Using this plan as our roadmap, we have been able to determine our areas of focus and set our sights on goals which we hope to achieve. Using this as our framework, we started doing the work to engage with our community, our traditional and non-traditional partners, to find areas of synergies, common goals and areas where we can build upon each other’s successes in order to build capacity as a community to make an impact.

The partnership with La Tablée des Chefs allowed us to marry their expertise in facilitating the process of food recovery at events and our ability to tap into our network of partners to build energy behind a collective effort to imbed this program in Ottawa. This partnership has already yielded incredible success and it will just continue to grow as more partners join the effort.


What do you think the hallmarks of a winning City Nation Place Awards entry will be?


There are some fairly obvious key elements to a successful award application. Things like community engagement, collaboration, and storytelling are at the very root of strong place branding. I think it’s also key to outline the brand objectives and how the destination is working to attract investment, talent, and visitors. KPIs and the planned use of data will help to do this. But apart from these pillars of place branding, I love to see brands that are fun, experimental, happy to risk separating themselves from the crowd, and willing to show their personality.

Thank you for sharing that with us, Glenn!

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