Quebec City reeled in tourists by the hundreds of thousands in 2008 as it pulled off a tremendous string of celebratory feats for its yearlong, 400th birthday bash.

The plan for year No. 401? Avoid the hangover.

In 2008, the fortified city overlooking the St. Lawrence River lured visitors to watch the planet’s largest multimedia exhibition on a 600-metre-long projection surface.

Thousands more streamed through the local fine-arts museum, where 250 carefully selected works from Paris’ illustrious Louvre were on display.

And close to half a million partiers shook the Plains of Abraham at separate concerts headlined by knighted rock hero Paul McCartney and homegrown pop star Celine Dion.

Really, how could any town ever expect to top all that?

According to the local tourism department, the city, which long ago elbowed onto top-10 lists of North America’s best destinations, won’t have to.

“People like to come here,” said Daniel Gagnon, the department’s communications director. “They liked it before 2008 and they will like it in 2009.”

Gagnon admits 2009 won’t stir up the same tourist bucks as last year, but he said there are still plenty of activities to attract out-of-towners.

The region’s tourism industry hopes so, too.

Thanks to the anniversary party, business at Quebec City hotels shot up by 11 per cent last year, said Brian Aube, general manager of the Quebec Region Hotel Association.

“We had a great 2008, so we can’t complain about that,” said Aube, whose organization represents 95 per cent of the hotels in and around Quebec City.

This year, local hoteliers are hoping the region’s long-standing bread-and-butter attractions — most of which are tied to history, religion and romance — will lure visitors from the nearby markets of New England, Ontario and the Maritimes.

He said people generally stay closer to home during tough economic times, a fact that Quebec City aims to take advantage of — especially if fuel prices remain low.

The city’s tourism department even launched a major ad campaign geared for the university crowds in Boston, which is about 600 kilometres south of Quebec City.

Organizers hope to woo young adrenalin addicts to events such as the rough-and-tumble Red Bull Crashed Ice downhill ice-skating race on Jan. 24 and February’s Snowboard Jamboree.

The area is renowned for its wintry offerings, including ski hills, the iconic Carnaval de Quebec and stunning ice hotel.

But Aube said the region is also known for its popular summer festival, the Village Vacances Valcartier water park, the rich history of Old Quebec and the 350-year-old shrine in nearby Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre.

To keep the 400th birthday momentum rolling, the city allocated $8.5 million of its 2009 budget to produce free events throughout the year.

In 2008, with the help of the provincial and federal governments, the city had $90 million of celebration funds at its disposal.

Gagnon said the city plans to bring back a new version of Robert Lepage’s Image Mill, the wildly popular outdoor multimedia show that was beamed onto the side of 81 grain silos every night at the harbourfront.

Quebec City Tourism estimates 600,000 people took in Lepage’s exhibition, which rolled sights and sounds from the city’s colourful history into a 40-minute production.

On the web
The Image Mill:
Red Bull Crashed Ice:
Carnaval de Quebec:
Snowboard Jamboree:

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