Posts tagged ‘ottawa’

July 9, 2013

Why a Calgary Winter Stampede would be the Coolest Show on Earth

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A Calgary Winter Stampede may not have much of a rodeo presence, but it sure would be The Coolest Show on Earth. (Julia Pelish photo/Vacay.ca)

[This opinion piece was first published on Vacay.ca and then the Huffington Post earlier this week.]

As the Calgary Stampede completes its first weekend after a heroic effort by volunteers, organizers and workers to overcome the devastation of the June flood, there’s a heightened awareness of the importance of tourism to the city.

Had the flooding occurred a week later, the Stampede very likely would have been wiped out, jeopardizing one quarter of the city’s annual tourism income. Disasters reveal vulnerabilities, not just in infrastructure and urban planning, but in economics, as well. The flood in Alberta indicates a need for more significant tourism draws to the city.

The Stampede, now in its 101st year, created $340 million in economic impact last year, when it welcomed a record 1.5 million visitors. Tourism totals $1.4 billion and attracts 5.2 million visitors each year inCalgary. For a city of more than one million people, having one event account for 25% of tourism is far too high of a percentage. In contrast, the Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs comedy festival — which both bring in more than $100 million in spending to Quebec’s largest city — are each responsible for about 5% of the metropolitan area’s $2.4-billion annual tourism industry. Even if either one was as large as the Stampede, it still wouldn’t be responsible for a quarter of the share of tourism spending. Likewise, if either one was cancelled for whatever reason, the loss wouldn’t cut so deep because other international festivals exist in Montreal.

If there’s a lesson for the city and tourism operators in Calgary to take away from the flood it might be that now’s the time to dramatically diversify event offerings to have another giant festival that attracts global attention. In my mind, the surest way to make an immediate and sustained impact is through launching an annual Calgary Winter Stampede.

Such an event accomplishes several objectives for Tourism Calgary and mayor Naheed Nenshi.

  1. It adds another significant event to the annual calendar to entice visitors and generate revenue.
  2. It boosts employment in the tourism sector, which currently employs 10% of Calgarians.
  3. It allows for another way to demonstrate Calgary’s astounding community spirit.

A Calgary Winter Stampede takes advantage of the city’s best-known brand, “the Greatest Show on Earth” itself, and allows the city to capitalize on the winter sports traffic to its airport, where skiers and snowboarders land en route to the Canadian Rockies.

May 26, 2013

Explaining Canada’s tourism strategy

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Ottawa hosted this year’s Rendez-vous Canada industry conference. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

[This column was first published in Vacay.ca on May 17, 2013, and later appeared on the Huffington Post.]

OTTAWA, ONTARIO — The Canadian Tourism Commission has come under unwanted and ignorant criticism this month. The truth is, any of us would be hard-pressed to find a government agency that manages to do more with less than the CTC. Its budget has been slashed by 20% to $58.5 million from the 2012 level of $72 million, a sum that had also been reduced from previous years. Yet, the Canadian tourism industry grew 4.2% in 2012, increasing its revenue to $81.9 billion. A $100-billion target has been set for 2015.

“We’re the little engine that could,” Michele McKenzie said on May 3 in Cape Breton while attending that Nova Scotia region’s annual tourism conference and she underscored that sentiment a week later at Rendez-vous Canada, a yearly gathering of Canada’s tourism and trade industry.

In the face of relentless competition and staggering budget cuts, the CTC has deployed a strategy that involves provincial and municipal tourism boards and agencies focusing on traditional markets like the United States. On the federal level, the CTC is pushing all of its efforts toward attracting consumers from Brazil, India, China and Australia — nations where revenue potential is immense. The economies of Brazil, India and China are going to continue to grow and their citizens are will travel farther afield, and Canada has an opportunity to ensure consistent travel from those populations. Australians are used to long flights and the ascent in value of their currency allows many of them to fulfill the dream of venturing to Canada.

March 5, 2013

Atelier deserves all the praise it gets

[Vacay.ca is putting together its second annual list of Canada’s Top 50 Restaurants and public voting helps to determine that list. The voters have been incredibly supportive of Atelier, a wonderful restaurant with only 22 seats in an out-of-the-way neighbourhood in Ottawa. I had a chance to dine there and speak to its chef, the talented Marc Lepine. This article was published in Vacay.ca in October.]

OTTAWA, ONTARIO —  Midway through her dinner, Jennifer Swartz looked up to her dining partner and exclaimed, “Hands-down the best meal of my life.”

Swartz had been meaning to make reservations at Atelier for a number of months and wasn’t disappointed in her August visit despite entering Marc Lepine’s restaurant with lofty expectations. “You hear so much about this place in Ottawa but it’s still a little secret outside of the area,” said Swartz, who lives in Canada’s capital and was dining a couple of tables away from me. “The food is like art.”

And that’s not by accident. Lepine began Atelier in 2008 after completing a stage at Alinea, the Chicago restaurant run by Grant Achatz that’s consistently near the top of the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants ListAlinea is known in North America for popularizing microgastronomy, the cooking technique that involves chemistry and often results in whimsical creations. Numerous chefs have tried to replicate Achatz’s success with microgastronomy and the results are often hit and miss. Lepine is one of those who is on the mark.

In February, Lepine’s team won the Gold Medal Plates competition at the Canadian Culinary Awards in Kelowna, British Columbia, and earlier this year Atelier was named the People’s Choice winner in theVacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada List, finishing fifth overall.

Knowing Atelier’s reputation, I approached my visit to the restaurant expecting an opulent room laden with crystals and 500-thread-count linen. Like its chef, though, Atelier is understated in every way but the boldness of its cuisine. The restaurant’s exterior on Rochester Street, six kilometres from the frenzy of the Byward Market, is so non-descript it doesn’t even have a sign. It’s a house, not a mansion. The exterior is slate grey and a black grate covers the window, making it seem almost moody when you approach in the night. But that’s not an indication of what’s inside. When you enter, host and sommelier Steve Robinson greets you warmly, inviting you into a 22-seat space that feels like a dinner party.

“It made sense that we didn’t have a sign, because our menu’s blind and we’re reservation-only, and this kind of works for us,” says Lepine, pointing out that Atelier isn’t the sort of place where people decide to go on the spur of the moment, so it wasn’t important to rent a storefront in a well-trafficked area of Ottawa.

People would come searching for the food, if it was good enough, he believed. As Swartz indicated, the word of mouth drew her in.

One of the most likeable chefs you’ll ever meet, Lepine puts his imaginative spin on dishes to make Atelier as creative a kitchen as you’ll find in the country. One of the plates on my visit featured 14 ingredients, another — an octopus salad — was so minimalist it was positioned to occupy only one corner of the white plate; hence its menu name, “In This Corner.”

That’s the other aspect of Atelier and Lepine you will remember: The imagination doesn’t stop with the food. Each dish has a name that attempts to be clever. A cold pea soup puree is called Give Peas a Chance (and you should, it’s delicious), a crab-and-lobster dish is named after characters in both the “Little Mermaid” (Sebastian the Crab) and “The Simpsons” (Pinchy the Lobster), and a peach dessert gets tagged with the title Impeachment. The servers appear chagrined and apologetic when they pronounce some of the names, which only adds to Atelier’s lack of pretentiousness. The music is all Canadian. Imagine dining on Idaho-raised wagyu beef prepared sous vide — meaning sealed in an airtight bag and cooked in water for several hours — while Joel Plaskett plays in the background. It’s not something you’d ever envision, and that ability to surprise and make you look at dining anew is partly what defines Atelier.

April 30, 2009

Canada Geese Mate for Life

[Published in “Confrontation”, 2003]

Men hit on me all the time. On the train, when I’m grocery shopping, out for a jog. The first time Paul hit on me was two years ago, on his first day at Mansfield, the ad agency I’ve worked at for three years without receiving a raise, promotion or any attention that doesn’t involve men watching me walk away. When we were introduced, Paul smiled too wide and shook my hand too long, rubbing his thumb over my fingers as if he had just met the office pet. I was told he was joining our team of graphic designers and was being stationed in the cubicle directly across from me. Upon that news, my stomach knotted as if it had been wrung.

cover_confrontation1Paul, on the other hand, seemed very satisfied with all aspects of his new job, with the exceptions of the tall, beige divider separating us and the picture of Matt on my desk. Unfortunately, neither was a deterrent for his nerve. As the morning continued, he kept needing help with his computer, asking me repeatedly if I could come over and take a look at his screen to make sure he had the correct page template or his color settings were calibrated with the printer or he was using the proper style sheet. The first few times were understandable; after that, I was simply being called upon for his enjoyment. He began to touch, putting a hand that resembled a kind of butcher’s cut on my elbow when he said thanks and squeezing my shoulder when I had to sit in his chair to fix whatever problem he couldn’t diagnose.

At lunch, he wanted to know if there was a good place to eat in the area. “There’s probably some spot hidden away you all go to, right?” He sounded as if he’d found himself stuck in a village of mosques on Ramadan, when we were in fact in the middle of SoHo.