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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Birdies, bells and a biathlon

In Halifax, you have to be living under an industrial size rock not to have realized that in just 13 days, 4 hours and 20 minutes (according to the countdown clock), the 2011 Canada Games decend upon our fair city.

NewSplash0610For sports enthusiasts, this means 16 days of Canada’s best athletes performing for national glory and personal pride. Which of these ranks more important would be in the eye of the opinion holder, although I for one think it would be the latter before the former.

For the school kids in Halifax, it is an extra week off of school; yup, two weeks when all of public classes are cancelled. The official reason for this break is so that our youth can enjoy the inspiring events and activities of our national athletes. The only problem is that most parents don’t get a week off in February, much less two, so for many it has become a planned exercise in extended family care.

However, I’m going to be watching the Games closely in order to gauge the level of tourism literacy in Halifax. What is tourism literacy? This is how well our population understands the value of tourism visitors and how well we treat them.

Tens of thousands of visitors will descend on our region for two plus weeks. For many, it will be their first visit to our fine city, our city with roadways designed around a peninsula, a basin, an inlet, a highway and a harbour. Getting lost in Halifax isn’t uncommon, and if you’re not lost then you might be confused by intersections with five and six street options to choose from. I live here – it’s just a regular thing. But for new visitors, it can be mind-boggling.

I mention the traffic as an example because the Games are spread across 13 different venues, 11 of which are in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Here is my question on the traffic. How will our local population react to the massive influx of tourists, driving around Halifax trying to find their venue? Will we honk in annoyance when someone needs to cut in front of us because they are in the wrong lane? Will we curse under our breath when the Rotary slows down as they tentatively try to exit the combat zone?

You see, visitors remember some of the events that they attend, but they will hold close the feelings they have of the place. How they were treated by the locals at dinner, over breakfast, in traffic and just walking down the street. The economic spin off of events such as the Canada Games can be measured immediately; however, this is myopic. The benefits come over the next 18-24 months, when future tourists decide to come back to our region and our province based on either firsthand experiences or the recommendations of their friends and family. Parents who travel here to watch their son or daughter compete and have a warm, welcoming experience will likely a) come back in the next two years for a more leisurely trip or 2) influence someone else to visit with the stories they tell.

I have great faith in Haligonians to step up our game during the Games. After all, this is the Maritimes – hospitality is what we do! But it will be the little things that make the different, the smiles on the street, the quick hellos, the appreciation of their effort to come here in the middle of some less-than-pleasant weather.

So if you find yourself on the roads in February and the driver in front of you seems obviously lost, give them space, a wave and a smile. This patience will help in multiple ways. The likelihood that they will return will go up. They will return with an increased knowledge of our city (thus as better drivers). And our tourism industry will benefit in both dollars and reputation.

Just my two cents…

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