Yes, visitors do sometimes say things that make us smile and shake our heads.
Sometimes the questions are so outlandish that they drift out into the community, take on the quality of urban legend, and one has to wonder if anybody really asked that question in the first place. But at our year-end Ambassador parties we used to have a session of sharing these questions, and I’ve heard some of them myself, so I can assure you that they’re real.
“When do the smoked salmon run?”
“Does the water go all the way around the island?”
And my personal favourite, asked on the pier: “How far are we above sea level?”
We hear some great ones relayed by cruise ship crew as well: “Does the crew sleep aboard at night?”
We might laugh between ourselves at the end of the season, but it’s not mean laughter. When any of us meet with visitors, we really do understand that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. For cruise passengers especially, these folks have just stepped off the equivalent of a floating Vegas hotel and found themselves in an environment extremely different than anything they’ve ever encountered.
I admit it. I love these unintentional one-liners. But on the flip side of that, each time I’m at the Museum of Northern BC I take a moment to flip through the comment books. There one will see the opposite end of the spectrum. These are from visitors who have now had time to settle into the community, and have gained a sense of place from their visit to the museum. It’s the same with “exit surveys” delivered at the dock as passengers return to their cruise ship.
In a letter sent to the library following the Zaandam visit in May, a visitor wrote, “Your big attraction is the local folks. Not sure how ‘local folks’ can be marketed for tourism but that is such an outstanding quality your town has that I think someone should get on it!”
And that’s exactly what we do. One of my favourites lately came from an English tour operator who visited Prince Rupert last week. His company sends an endless stream of visitors through Prince Rupert, independent travellers who spend two or three nights and seek a true understanding of each place they visit. Musing to me over lunch he said,
“By the time our visitors have traveled up the coast to Prince Rupert they’ve already experienced many of the iconic coastal experiences. They’ve been to Tofino, or Telegraph Cove. I want to promote your town as something else. Walking around this morning I thought that what set your town apart was that it was this unique opportunity to see the cultural reality of the BC coast. It’s something that’s rather overwhelming on a brief visit to Victoria, but here it’s really bite-sized – friendly, eclectic, and arty in its own way. This little fire museum, your City Hall, Cow Bay, added to this spectacular museum… I’d like to say that Prince Rupert is their opportunity to understand the people and the culture of the BC coast.”
His comments strike very close to what the working group that created the Prince Rupert Tourism Plan settled upon as the community positioning statement. In other words, he struck upon almost exactly the words that we use describe ourselves.