The universal sign for information, the question mark, sits on the corner of highway 12 and one of the entrances into Coronation but as there is no arrow underneath, it does not indicate to visitors which way to turn to gain information about the town. Beth Causley
Many people who live in small towns and villages would say that there is nothing to draw tourists to their area.
The Canadian Badlands Foundation is trying to change that view with their Community Tourism Awareness Training sessions. Sessions were held in Consort on March 30 and in Coronation on March 31.
Castor, Coronation, Consort, Halkirk, Veteran, the County of Paintearth and Special Areas 4 are partnering together in a municipal project to create a Tourism Vision and Action Plan for moving tourism forward in a way that enhances the local quality of life.
Darlis Collinge is an independent facilitator from Down to Business Solutions working in collaboration with the Canadian Badlands Foundation. Collinge facilitated the tourism awareness sessions which, along with the “Growing Visitation in the Canadian Badlands” toolkit, assists local residents to recognize the tourism assets in their area and how they can promote them.
“By working collaboratively with locals you can make the small towns into a tourist destination,” said Collinge.
She went on to explain that in order to do that effectively, community members need to understand how important their roll in tourism is.
“People who interact with visitors don’t see themselves as tourism ambassadors,” Collinge said but went on to explain that locals are what makes a visit to their area authentic.The “Growing Visitation in the Canadian Badlands” toolkit features things that the community can be doing to build local support for visitation and tourism, including tourism fact and suggestion about tools to engage citizens.
With tourism being one of the top three industries in Alberta, behind oil and gas and agriculture, it;s not hard to understand how important tourism is to our local economies.
Eighty per cent of visitors spending in southern Alberta are from the surrounding region, Collinge said in her presentation, and that the fully independent traveller market is the main type of visitation to the Badlands area. She also highlighted that tourism is a tool to attract investment and relocation.
Collinge said that that was important information for people to know because we should be referring to our tourists as visitors and visitors mean repeat customers who generate more income. Visitors will share information of their visit with other people in their own community who have the same kind of easy access to our areas which will bring more people than a tourist from Germany would.
The toolkit allows people to develop ideas around tourism starting at the beginning stages, how to involve citizens and businesses and how to take the ideas and grow with them.
One of the ideas developed at the session in Coronation was to develop a business sized cared that listed the Top 10 things to do in Coronation that could easily be integrated into any information booth and marketing package developed for the area.
First though you have to get people to come in off the highway so that they can see what your community has to offer.
There are some displays along the highways that connect our rural communities that really entice people to come in off the highway for more than just gas, encouraging them to stay and enjoy where they are.
Organizations like Communities in Bloom, town councils and local business that support and participate in making their community a wonderful place to visit, have achieved some great examples of areas that do just that by beautifying the town and the entrance into it.
The entrance into the Town of Coronation once off of Hwy 12 is a great example.
With displays of painted artifacts of the town’s history and well tended gardens on one side, the other side has a parking area where visitors can get up close to a huge crown and a CPR caboose.
A path leads you from the caboose through the park and onto the museum, all scattered with relics of history that are fun to interact with.
This kind of well thought out area is an example that entices people to stop and will encourage them into the town to eat, shop and explore, which not only adds to the economy, but will give the visitor an opportunity to promote the Town to other possible visitors.
Before you see this beautiful display though, you first have to turn off the highway at the intersection where the Frontier Hotel sits on the corner, a building with partially boarded up windows and a derelict sign that make it look like it is no longer in business.
Are we ready?
The small things are important and having signage with the international sign of information, the question mark, on the highways is a good way for people to recognize that they can stop there for informations but by not having an arrow under the sign telling the visitor which way to turn off the highways and unsightly premises as the first things visitors see, they (and thus potential revenue) are more likely to drive past than stop in to investigate.
Lauren Reid, library manager at the Coronation Library runs the information booth located in the town library and has and has an excellent stock of information for visitors. She says no one would be able to find the library from either of the two highways that the town is situated on. Due to the lack of proper signage from either of the two highway entrances, telling people to turn into the town for information, many visitors won’t e streeted into the town.
By having maps of your town, information about businesses and things to do in your town prominently displayed and easily visible at your information booths, especially those located directly on the highway, you entice people to visit and allow easy access of information for them to pass onto others.
Many communities have “information booths” that are located in other businesses, for example gas stations and town offices, but how many of these people have been trained in how to work with visitors to get them to stay?
To get that information the small things have to be attended to and we all need to get informed about what’s in our area and become the tourist destinations that we are talking about being!
By becoming informed about what our communities have to offer visitors, it provides us with a response for the next time someone asks “What is there to do here?”
Originally Published April 9, 2015 in the ECA Review