Grand Tourismo

Our culture(s) and geography make for great tourism videos, but we can certainly improve on our customer satisfaction.

It’s summertime and many people are taking their vacations staycationers and those from away. In fact, I’m writing this column on a lovely deck overlooking the Cartwright harbour with a belly full of fresh Arctic Char caught in our communal Aboriginal fishery on a perfectly warm, sunny evening. Funny sidebar: I just got back from Independent Island, near Cartwright. It’s also soon my birthday, so I’ll make no (major) apologies for not writing my regular hyperlinked, politically-aggravating column this week.

It’s a season of traditional activities all over Labrador and Newfoundland, a time we often create our fondest memories and learn the most about our heritage. It’s the most common season for family to visit from near and far. It’s when our fishery is (was) in full swing. And it’s also the time we get the most out of our tourism industry. While I’ve already delved into the benefits of diversifying our economy and relying on a larger number of smaller industries (in past columnsand I will again soon), I’d like to focus on tourism for now.

We are hardy peoples with distinct cultures

And we have unique ways of carving life out of the majestic land and sea-scapes. We’ve all seen the television commercials that reflect this it’s what hooks people and generates in them a real sense of awe of this little corner of the world. During my own travels around Canada and abroad I often tell people where I’m from (which includes a patient explanation that I’m not a “Newfie”), and they almost always express a desire to visit, or to return and explore more of the lands. It’s something to be proud of.

Many of our visitors aren’t spending a week here…

These are people who have lots of money and/or lots of time, two things that are in limited supply for most North Americans. That’s why we tend to see extreme adventurers, rich salmon anglers, retirees, or Europeans or Australians. In other words, people who go to the far corners of the world to experience the things we sell in our commercials.

I’ve made a habit of talking to as many of those travelers as possible. It’s a great learning experience to see yourself reflected through as many lenses as possible, and to understand those perspectives in building on your strengths or reevaluating the areas where there’s room for improvement. They call Labrador the “Big Land”, and I suppose this is in reference to the fact we have lots of room up here.

…but we gotta support them when they come.

Just a few days ago I was running around Goose Bay getting things ready for a visit home to Cartwright, a trip that’s by road (or speed boat) these days, not the ferry (though there is still a small passenger and freight ferry). While it’s a pretty good dirt road, and convenient, I kind of miss taking the ferry for the opportunity to chat up those outlanders. Normally I do most of my shopping in the smaller, destination communities since every dollar spent there goes much further than in the relatively less expensive central communities but I decided to get my fishing license in Goose Bay in case there weren’t any available on the coast.

While out shopping I overheard an extreme tourist from Germany inquiring about where to camp when he makes his way south on the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH). I say “extreme tourist” because, while he fit the retiree-age criteria, he had flags and stickers from all corners of the Earth decorating his suped-up, camper-outfitted Land Rover. He was advised of some local RV and cabin rentals, a few places along the TLH, and some of the communities but there really aren’t any consistent answers to his question.

We need consistency and clarity

Sometimes tourists are advised they can pitch a tent or park their RVs and campers anywhere they please. From what my brief deck chair research revealed though, camping on Crown Lands is only legal for residents, so long as you don’t cut any wood or have any fires without a resident permit. People shouldn’t be allowed to run amok on our public lands, but I do feel we should have some provincial support for tourists who travel through Labrador other than the few pull-over spots along the TLH.

In fact, the only official public campsite is one provincial park in all of Labrador’s almost 300,000 square kilometer land mass Pinware River Provincial Park. This is a park with a whopping 22 campsites in its 0.68 square kilometer expanse. Nothing against the park I did some work up there and it’s gorgeous. But it wouldn’t exist if the family who donated the land had not insisted it be a provincial park.

How can we improve camping?

This speaks volumes about the provincial government’s commitment to growing the tourism industry here  my homeland in particular. Sure there’s a few large federal parks in the province, and more on the way, but we can’t rely on the federal government (in the midst of cutbacks) to protect and share our heritage areas for us. Nor can we have tourists who want to experience our wilderness areas pitch their tents in a regulatory vacuum.

Why not consider what Ontario has done with respect to clarifying what camping (and other) activities are permitted on Crown Lands, especially given this province has the highest percentage of Crown Lands in the country? While we’re at it, we should be posting more information online and providing more on the ground support to our cash-carrying visitors so they can be better prepared to relieve themselves of it when they arrive.

I applaud the (mostly federal) government for building the Trans-Labrador Highway

While not paved, it allows tourists to visit both parts of the province at their own pace, in a circuit. This means people don’t have to double back on the ground they’ve already covered, which is especially important if they are driving thousands of kilometers. And, while the cruise ship season is short, it has a lot of room to grow.

I would like to one day applaud the government for upgrading the infrastructure of our ports and the information facilities, at the very least near those regions with major attractions. Too many times I’ve seen ad hoc guide teams assembled or people disembark the cruise ships with no support whatsoever. I’ve also heard complaints that (most of) our provincial ferries don’t capitalize on their captive audiences.

This could be a sustainable, multi-season industry

And it could bring a lot of money to our small towns. All of these issues I’ve raised wouldn’t cost a significant amount of (oil money) investment to fix. Some simple laws and government policies would clear up the Crown Land camping issues and other tourist concerns. Having local guides to greet visitors when they arrive, or on the actual ferries and cruise ships (not just those info. booths), and creating more provincial parks or designated campsites would go a long way to meeting the expectations we’ve produced through the media.

Remember, when the tourists go home, they share their experiences with others through social media and by word of mouth. In these times it’s even more important to make sure our visitors fully enjoy their experience so others will come as well.

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