Photo: The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Golf phenom Brooke Henderson may be what Ottawa’s tourism industry needs to revitalize its flagging numbers.
Henderson, from nearby Smiths Falls, Ont., is the star attraction at this week’s CP Women’s Open at Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. The most successful professional golfer in Canadian history, Henderson hopes that the LPGA Tour event can help the tourism sector in the nation’s capital recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully just lots and lots of people come out and we can really celebrate, not that COVID is over, but that things are moving forward and getting a little bit back to normal,” said Henderson, who won the event in 2018 at Regina’s Wascana Country Club.
South Korea’s Jin Young Ko won in 2019 at Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ont., with Henderson in the final group of the fourth round. The event was set to be held at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club in 2020 and 2021, but was canceled both years due to travel restrictions arising from the pandemic.
Tourism Ottawa reports that the tourism sector has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. A spokeswoman for the agency said that hotel occupancy in Ottawa was 120 per cent higher in June of this year than in 2021 and 235 per cent higher than in 2020. Hotel occupancy was 41.9 per cent higher in July than in 2021 and 130 per cent higher than in 2020.
However, both those 2022 months remain lower than 2019 occupancy levels.
Jantine Van Kregten, Tourism Ottawa’s director of communications, says business travel has not come back in force because the city’s largest employer, the federal government, still has most of its staff working from home. That means that people who would have come to Ottawa in pre-pandemic days to meet in-person with staff might now be meeting virtually instead.
“The lack of staff in downtown offices also has a spillover effect in the downtown core — those dry cleaners, shops, and restaurants that tended to the needs of the workforce aren’t as busy as before, meaning a potentially less vibrant core for visitors , too,” said Van Kregten.
Golf Canada reports that the CP Women’s Open has already sold over 70,000 tickets, a record for women’s golf in the country. Tourism Ottawa said that the event will have an expected economic impact of $13.4 million in the region.
“The last few years have been really tough on everybody, so I think it’s amazing that the tour is back in Canada playing after such a long time,” Henderson said. “It’s amazing to see all these people outside and relatively safe enjoying a great activity and great sport.”
The federal government announced a $4.4-million investment in Golf Canada’s two professional tournaments on Wednesday afternoon, with the funding to be split between the CP Women’s Open and the men’s RBC Canadian Open, which is typically held in the Greater Toronto Area.
Mona Fortier, the president of the Treasury Board and member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier, made the announcement in person at Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. She said anti-government convoy protests that put a stranglehold on Ottawa in February and March have also hurt tourism in the capital.
“Ottawa was hit hard, not only by COVID, but the convoy, which brings a lot of pressure in trying to attract people back to Ottawa and showing that it is a safe city,” said Fortier, who has had meeting with Tourism Ottawa and other industry organizations about how to support the flagging sector.
“We’re all working together to make sure that we do have events like the Women’s Open and making sure it’s safe but also attracts tourists.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2022.