Details are important in understanding visitor experience

When we see things every day, no matter what sense of wonder we felt when we first saw them, they gradually become commonplace. This theme arises in many of my conversations. We are lucky, at Tourism Prince Rupert, because we are repeatedly reminded by visitors of how magical this place can seem.

When we see things every day, no matter what sense of wonder we felt when we first saw them, they gradually become commonplace. This theme arises in many of my conversations. We are lucky, at Tourism Prince Rupert, because we are repeatedly reminded by visitors of how magical this place can seem.

I will stop to allow a family of deer to cross the street at a crosswalk, giving it no more thought than I would if it were a human family. Over the past while we’ve seen whales, porpoises and sea lions in the harbour with some regularity. We take these things for granted. For the visitor these things are extraordinary. The visitor, before even seeing these things, is already struck by far simpler things, things that completely escape our notice. When we hear, “Gosh, it sure is green here,” we stop, see again with fresh eyes, and think, yes, it is very green here compared to most of the places from which our visitors come. We are, after all, a coastal rainforest.

Even within the tourism industry we tend to miss the subtle within the spectacular. A wildlife watching trip is a good example. It is easy to see that watching the humpback whales bubble-net feeding, or grizzlies in the sedge grass along the shores of the Khutzeymateen Inlet, would be of interest to virtually anyone. For those who don’t live here, either of these opportunities would surely be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But thinking beyond what the visitor is buying, that whale or grizzly watching trip, and dissecting that single experience to truly understand the memories carried away by the traveler, one can easily understand how this special experience can be elevated to one of life’s great memories.

So imagine that trip with one of our wildlife operators, but try to see it with fresh eyes. It’s all new and wondrous, right down to the gulls and moored vessels for which we barely spare a glance. Eagles, again sometimes lost on jaded local eyes, can themselves be a highlight. We’ve all seen the clusters of visitors craning their necks in Cow Bay, but perhaps don’t realize how meaningful an experience this is for them.We may see Prince Rupert as no more than the place where we live. But if you’ve never seen it from the water before before, then Prince Rupert leaves an enchanting first impression – a city growing from a forested mountainside. And I’m sure that most of us still smile at the sight of a seal, or sea lion or porpoise, but a glimpse of any one of these might again be enough to have made the trip.

Lucy Island and Green Island lighthouses often make an appearance in a wildlife watching excursion. Again, to those often on the water, they are “just there.” But lighthouses by themselves can draw visitors by the score. They have a powerful mystique. Travel to view and photograph lighthouses, or even just collecting images or replicas of lighthouses, for many people symbolizes coastal living – a romantic ideal.

Putting this all together, one can see how the entire experience not only delivered upon expectations (often featuring whales en route to the Khutzeymateen, or a grizzly spotted on a whale watching trip), but exceeded expectations in so many different ways. For, say, a cruise ship passenger who experienced nothing else here except this excursion, they will dream of Prince Rupert, talk to their friends about Prince Rupert, and spread a powerful and positive message.

We tend to overlook these things that are familiar to us. It’s been my experience that working in the tourism industry keeps these familiar things top of mind, and makes us more appreciative of what an amazing place this really is.

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