Tourists can get a lukewarm welcome here, jamming streets with their exhaust-spewing buses, crowding the Rideau Centre, Byward Market and Sparks Street and, most unforgivably, snatching precious patio space from parched locals.
The only worse thing they can do is stay home.
And so we turn our eyes homeward. Last year, 80 per cent of tourism spending in Canada came from Canadians. They come to the capital from across the country, perhaps to see what we’ve done with their taxes.
As usual, there are new developments on this front. Stimulus lolly is gushing from the federal coffers. But the cheques in some cases arrived mere days before the openings of these festivals, by which time, critics rightly pointed out, the stated purpose of attracting out-of-town visitors seemed unlikely to be served.
The most obvious reasons to welcome visitors are economic. They spent $1.21 billion here last year, according to the Conference Board of Canada, but there are other benefits. Some locals wonder why anyone would pick Ottawa as a tourist destination, but others started out as tourists. Today’s visitor can be tomorrow’s neighbour.
I have met the tourist, and he is me. Before making the traditional migration from small town Ottawa Valley to the city, I remember meeting John Diefenbaker on my Grade 3 tour of the Parliament Buildings and seeing my first rock concerts at dear old grimy Lansdowne Park.
Now I’m local, partly because of those experiences.
Even the bored kids shambling zombie-like behind their parents on mandatory family outings are seeing this place with fresh eyes. They can appreciate this great city in ways we’ve forgotten.
And the tourists of 2009 die hard, shaking off economic malaise and daily rain to brave downtown streets rife with construction, one-way signs and mysterious name changes. Give ’em a smile and the best directions you can.