Interview with Catherine Callary, Vice President Destination Development, Ottawa Tourism

Marco Morana Marco Morana Information Security, Citi

We caught up with Catherine Callary, Vice President - Destination Development at Ottawa Tourism, ahead of the City Nation Place Americas conference this week in order to discover her take on place making, collaboration, and the role of a destination marketing organisation.

CNP: What are the advantages for closer collaboration between place making and planning teams, tourism, and economic development teams?  

CCThese three functions are like pieces of the puzzle and form a cohesive ecosystem with one another to optimize places for residents and visitors.  Placemaking is a term that is linked to specific sites and site improvements or activation. This is a good place to start when considering a place identity, and how designs and experiences within a site can tell a destination’s story.

Destination Development, which is the focus of tourism organizations or DMOs, tends to revolve around development of experiences and visitor experience, which can definitely include placemaking initiatives, but generally tries to take into account a broader geographic area than one specific site. In this case, what the team is doing is applying a visitor lens to what makes a great place, while placemaking teams will look to enhance sites for both visitors and residents. 

With economic development teams within the broader context of cities, you’ll find a focus on optimizing cities for investment both in terms of its own residents and generating business opportunities coming into the city from other places. As investment and talent attraction are important facets to this, so too is urban planning and city building. Here, the focus is on public realm, built environments, and systems within those environments that are conducive to strategic growth. 

When these three cogs connect and generate momentum together, that’s when the magic happens, allowing cities to gain momentum around ways to tell their stories, engender resident pride, attract talent and investment, and connect with visitors who then become ambassadors of those destinations. 


CNP: Do you think it’s becoming more important for DMOs and EDOs to advocate for their role and their impact to politicians and citizens?  Why do you think that is?

CC: Tourism is a conduit through which residents can express their pride in their hometown, and feel their pride reflected back to them when visitors corroborate why it is a great place. We as tourism promoters are a crucial part of that process. There’s nothing worse than going on vacation somewhere and speaking with locals who “overshare” their discontentment with some highly localized issue in their hometown. The visitor is there to enjoy it, has spent money on the trip, and wants to have a sense that they’ve arrived somewhere special.

As tourism organizations take more of an educational role on the value of the visitor economy as an economic driver, and as residents and politicians become sensitized to the impact of the visitor economy to their city, conversations about the city vis-à-vis investors, talent attractors, out-of-towners, and municipal representatives can become much more constructive and strategic. This is why it is more important than ever for DMOs and EDOs to work together and to advocate and communicate their role to these audiences.  


CNP: Do you think great neighbourhoods are of increasing importance for the place branding strategies of towns and cities?  And what do you think makes a great neighbourhood community?  

CCFrom a brand perspective, when a place can communicate its DNA to visitors in meaningful ways, what the place is doing is crystalizing its brand for an audience that whose starting position is a fresh perspective, unencumbered by pre-defined positions about a destination. 

Neighborhoods can be great conduits for communicating place brand because they have, by virtue of their defined geography and socio-economic or psychographic communities, a strong sense of self or character that can be succinctly communicated. What’s the character of a neighborhood? Is it trendy, artsy, edgy, hipster, youthful, Yuppie, inclusive, quaint, charming, or cultured? These character traits can be accentuated in the ways a neighborhood communicates the story of its residents and will attract like sets of visitors to its gateways. 

This sense of place becomes a feed-back loop with between residents and visitors, through interactions that emerge when fresh perspectives of visitors meet the localized passion of residents. And that means that tourism becomes a channel through which to engender destination pride in your residents when they see their city reflected back to them through the eyes of visitors. 

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.