Every time I travel I try to observe the local tourism economy of other communities to learn from them and bring that knowledge back to Yellowknife. I did this extensively in Iceland when I visited in October 2016, I just didn’t publish what I observed. Or have not yet.
Having these observations fresh in my mind I thought it relevant to share them as Yellowknife works to move tourism forward.
Firstly, I didn’t travel to a resort in a popular tourist area on the coast. I traveled to a lesser know destinations for Canadians. Then journeyed to a popular ex-pat community and finally Mexico City.
Here is what I noticed.
I’ll be the first to say I was the ignorant tourist that didn’t bother to learn much of the local language. In this case Spanish. Heck, I don’t even know French.
What I found though, is even in this lesser traveled area for English speaking travellers, is that the local population at least tried to understand the basics of English. Let’s be clear. They didn’t need to. I believe that it is the travellers responsibility to understand the local language. Yes, I realize English is the most popular language in the world, but I could try too.
How I understood this though, is that because some of the locals rely on the income tourism provides, by way of the traveler spending money, it was in the best interest of their business and livelihood to learn the foreign language.
This benefited me because I was able to enjoy myself a little more knowing that not everything was a confusing game of charades.
The Take-Away: Yellowknife’s tourism industry draws in the majority of travellers from Japan, China, and South Korea. We owe it to these visitors to understand their language and know the basics. These visitors are supporting our businesses and our economy. We should support their interest in our community and make it more enjoyable.
This observation is tied to the above one but substantial in its own right. Again, we must acknowledge that English is a very popular language so this is not uncommon. What I noticed was that many things – not everything – was translated into English.
The most notable was restaurants. They didn’t just translate their menu onto a piece of looseleaf, their menus were in both Spanish and English from the start. Often on the same page in two columns.
The Take-Away: Translating materials that any visitors might need to read – menus, signs, posters, brochures, websites, etc – shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be integrated into the development of products, marketing, signage and so on. Yellowknife, as a whole, needs to acknowledge and accept that these visitors, who don’t speak English, or French for that matter, are coming. And to be a successful destination, translations much be an essential part of business, marketing, and everyday life.
Pride in Place – for business
When I was in this particular place in rural Mexico I had to navigate my way through hundreds, if not thousands of small alleyways up and down hills to get from the apartment to the “centro”. I would pass many businesses along the way. Small convenience shops, to artisan stores, to everyday supply businesses. When I would go for a run early in the morning I would pass shopkeeper after shopkeeper out on the walkway in front of their business scrubbing the concrete. Everyday. Cleaning a small patch that probably wasn’t theirs.
Pride in place. Even though that sidewalk or road wasn’t theirs, if it was clean it showed they cared about their business, about their customers. Be it local or visitor.
The Take-Away: Whether we operate a brick-and-mortar store or use a Territorial Park, Yellowknife, we need to take pride in the area we operate in. Not shrug it off as someone else’s responsibility or the Governments. We might not have the competitiveness of Mexico, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try a little harder to make things look a little nicer, even if that means picking up garbage in a public place.
Pride in Place – for community
Finally, and not unlike my last observation, when I was also on those early morning runs I would see municipal workers out on the streets cleaning up from the night before. Just sweeping up garbage and helping make the place presentable.
No doubt to a Canadian some places in Mexico are not as clean and pristine as we might be used to, but at the same time, the complete opposite was true. Although I was in a much bigger city in Mexico than Yellowknife, there seemed to be more pride of place in all residents, regardless of social status. There seemed to be an overall understanding that their community was a destination and because of that, the community benefited and therefore needed to always be presentable.
The Take-Away – We as a community need to 1. realize that people are coming to our community to experience it and 2. we need to all take part in cleaning it up on a regular basis. Be it just by picking up someone else’s garbage, helping for a business or non-profit that employees people to clean up the streets, or by supporting our municipality in their efforts to keep public areas clean.
Yellowknife is not in a horrible situation. We might not have a solid foundation for the influx of tourism we have seen in the last 5 years, and there might be road blocks along the way, but we need to keep moving forward, opening new doors and learning what is needed and what will work.
Let’s continue this conversation and make some things happen.