Oshawa Tourism celebrating a year of changing perceptions for visitors and residents alike


Published June 11, 2024 at 12:33 pm

Convergence 2023
A drone shot of the Strumbellas closing last year's Convergence festival in downtown Oshawa

Oshawa has always been a tough sell in the tourism business. Parkwood has been bringing in visitors to the house that Colonel Sam built for a century but the city’s blue-collar reputation and the penchant of its citizens for looking down on its own virtues has made it a tourism ‘destination’ for mostly family and friends.

Oshawa Tourism, an arm of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, is looking to change the city’s perception – both to potential visitors and in the eyes of its own residents – and has made “significant strides” in enhancing the city’s appeal as a prime landing spot for tourists.

As with any long-term strategy, you need a plan and Oshawa Tourism invited local stakeholders to sit on a Tourism Advisory Committee and help develop the Strategic Community Tourism Plan to lay a “strong foundation” for sustainable tourism growth.

And then they got to work.

Parkwood Estate

Oshawa Tourism has promoted local attractions and events through weekly blogs; promoted the booming foodie scene through the Culinary Compass, which showcased 60-plus local restaurants (a digital edition of the guide can be found at www.oshawaculinary.com), and pushed the city’s no longer hidden secrets top-of-mind through a quarterly marketing campaign to encourage visitation and “foster a sense of pride” among residents.

The organization also produced three major events in 2023. The Oshawa Santa Claus Parade of Lights, which was brought back into the light after pandemic restrictions; and two new experiences: Boujee Bites, a tapas-style foodie celebration held at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (the second annual was last week) and Convergence, a music and arts festival that took over the downtown streets last September.

“All of which received overwhelming community support and participation,” noted Jason King, the chamber’s CEO, who called Bougee Bites an “excellent example of the magic that can be achieved when a community collaborates.”

Convergence, he added, brought thousands of visitors to the city core for a day full of free art, music and culture, headlined by The Strumbellas. “The streets came alive that day.”

Oshawa Tourism has also kept the city’s attractions in the forefront through monthly B2B newsletters offering industry insights, marketing tips and collaboration opportunities and expanded its social media presence, engaging with 160,200 people on Facebook and 52,600 on Instagram, with King praising local tourism stakeholders for making the social media milestones possible.

“Our accomplishments are a testament to the power of community and the shared vision of making Oshawa a vibrant and attractive place to live, work, and visit,” he said, adding that his organization remains “dedicated” to building on this success and continuing to promote Oshawa’s unique offerings to a broader audience.

Boosting a city’s image as a tourist destination – especially a community where its residents are too often their own worst enemy – needs a branding exercise too, and Oshawa Tourism worked with local graphic designers Citrus Media to create a brand strategy that captured the “essence” of Oshawa.

Concepts were crafted based on input from key partners from the economic development teams from the City and the Region of Durham, as well as the public through a community survey launched in the summer of 2022 that looked at:

  • Inclusive language that spoke to both visitors and residents
  • Imagery that captured the ‘pillars’ of tourism: sport, culinary, kids and family, arts and culture, nightlife, the great outdoors and shopping
  • Ensuring that the exercise ‘keeps it real’ and embraces the most authentic aspects of Oshawa.

The primary brand image includes an ‘O’ with interchangeable icons embedded, including key Oshawa landmarks such as the McLaughlin Bandshell and the ‘Group Portrait‘ sculpture from the McLaughlin Gallery. The icons can be modified for various purposes – music notes, musical instruments, paint brushes and theatrical masks can be incorporated for events and promotions focused on arts and culture. Similar treatments can be created to reflect each pillar of tourism

In the fall of 2022 Oshawa Tourism launched SIZZLE VIDEO, a visual showcase highlighting the city’s diverse attractions, vibrant culture, and unique experiences.

The goal of the video was to “captivate and inspire” both residents and visitors by presenting a “vivid and compelling narrative of what makes Oshawa a must-visit destination, King explained. As well, www.OshawaTourism.com, the city’s first website dedicated to tourism was launched, with the site serving as a comprehensive resource for discovering attractions and events.

The user-friendly platform, King added, includes dedicated landing pages for various interests, from food and drink and nightlife to arts and culture, sports, family activities, shopping and the outdoors.

Blog content on the site reflects these themes and the website also boasts a dedicated ‘Stay’ tab on the homepage, offering links to Oshawa’s accommodation options through a plug-in to the Expedia travel site.

“A comprehensive website like this is crucial in promoting Oshawa as a premier visitor destination,” King said. “It centralizes information, making it easy for tourists to plan their visit and discover everything Oshawa offers.”

Oshawa Tourism also collaborated with neighbouring Central Counties Tourism early last year to develop a three-year tourism plan and engaged the community and visitors through a series of interactive installations at events across the city, including Skate Canada National Championships, the annual Peony Festival, Canada Day at Lakeview Park, Kars on King and the Bright and Merry Market.

“These installations have not only served as dynamic touchpoints to enhance visitor experience but have also been instrumental in promoting Oshawa’s rich tourism offerings as they have been many peoples’ first instruction to the Oshawa Tourism practice.”

Oshawa Tourism also actively participated in on-campus international student orientation events at Durham College and Ontario Tech University, taking advantage of an opportunity to introduce international students – a significant and growing segment of the city’s population – to what Oshawa has to offer, “fostering a sense of community and pride in their new home.”

“The report highlights some amazing achievements over the past year and shows how our strategic initiatives are making a big impact on Oshawa’s economic growth and community prosperity,” King said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

The beat is still going on in 2024 for Oshawa Tourism, with Boujee Bites just concluded and the release of the Attractions Guide, a 35-page “really cool piece” visitors can pick up at hotels and other locations.

“It’s an appropriate resource for people who want to visit but it’s also great for people who live here and sometimes forget everything that is happening here.”

The organization is also set to launch the Home Town Tourist Challenge, a digital resource of family-friendly activities available this spring and summer for Oshawa residents.

“That’s the story we’re trying to share here.”

To view the full report, check out Oshawa Tourism Annual Report.

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