China is quickly becoming Canada’s second largest inbound tourism market, fuelling Chinatown’s dream of attracting a bigger share of Ottawa’s tourism market – especially approaching the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
The upcoming national birthday is expected to generate an extra influx of domestic and international tourists – including many from China, partly thanks to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s trip to Beijing last month.
The mayor, along with representatives from Ottawa Tourism and Invest Ottawa, visited Ottawa’s sister city and formally invited Beijing to Ottawa for the 2017 celebrations.
The trip was one of 40 “twinning missions” between Ottawa and China in the past two years.
“The Chinatown arch is a perfect example of a twinning project between Beijing and Ottawa,” says Shirley Fang, executive director of the Chinatown BIA, referring to the spectacular gateway feature near the corner of Bronson and Somerset streets. “We hope we can do more projects like that.”
But Fang says Chinatown needs to remodel its infrastructure before taking on any more projects to meet the upcoming 2017 demand.
After a fire claimed four businesses earlier this fall, it is unclear whether the owners will rebuild where the originals stood. As a consequence, there is now a major gap in the streetscape.
“The fire that occurred last month was tragic,” says Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who is working with Watson and Chinatown BIA to promote the retail district. “Investment is needed to maintain Chinatown as a cultural hub.”
The community is left in the proverbial dust of Toronto’s investment-rich Asian hub. Chinese businesses have doubled their investments in Canadian cities over the last five years to total a whopping $25 billion, leaving some in Ottawa wondering how the city can attract more investment to reinvent its Chinatown in time for 2017.
Fang says that more partnership projects like the Chinatown gateway would draw tourists and investors.
The arch was built in 2010 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic agreements between Canada and China, and the cost was shared between the two countries.
Such partnerships appear more likely in the future since newly elected Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has stated that China will be a top priority for Canadian trade.
Ottawa Tourism has also been brought on board to help create a more robust Chinatown, which Jantine Van Kregten, communications director for the city-funded agency, says is vital. She says officials have been working on the Chinese tourist market for years and displaying a vibrant Chinese culture mixed with Ottawa flavour would help seal the deal.
“They want to explore what is unique about Ottawa, but I think they also want a little taste of home,” she says of tourists from China.
Fang says the BIA will focus on making Chinatown more fun.
“We (want) a theme-park approach to rebuild Chinatown,” she says. Fang added that part of this strategy would entail making a more creative and eye-catching Chinatown.
She added that they plan to use the BIA’s network to promote Somerset Street to Chinese investors, like Toronto did, as they await more details from the city on how best to work with China.
Their goal is to have Chinatown designated a “special economic zone,” making tourism-focused promotion a tangible priority for city hall, according to Grace Xin, the national director of a China-Canada tour operator based in Ottawa.
Amidst the efforts to make Chinatown more tourist friendly, McKenney says the street still needs to be multipurpose.
“We need to invest in the area for families as much as we do for tourists,” she says.
©Centretown News, Image ©Kelly O’Brien