You know what always puts me in a wonderful friendly mood, ready and eager to welcome visitors to my hometown and show off its good points?
If you guessed "Chiding from the tourist board
", you are so right
OK, no, actually, I lied. This is pissing me off.
A campaign launched under the slogan "We've been expecting you" is meant to make sure tourists feel wanted and loved from the minute they arrive at the airport, train station or hotel.
It will encourage average folks to do things like stop on the street to help a visitor fumbling with a map, or go out of their way to explain how the subway system works.
"It goes beyond customer service. It's the sense of welcome. It's the things you would do if someone were coming to your house – spruce up the house, get the candles out, put the kids in the backyard," said David Whitaker, president and CEO of Tourism Toronto.
OK, knee-jerk reactions first:
1. The word "folks" always makes me grind my teeth.
2. This "coming to your house" metaphor is both (a) condescending and (b) clueless:
(a) Nothing against tourists. I like tourists fine. I often stop to help people fumbling with maps, or point them towards the subway. (I work a block away from the bus station, so I get a lot of opportunity.) But the difference between tourists and people coming to my house is that tourists are perfect strangers who have chosen to spend time in my city, and people who come to my house are friends I have invited there.
(b) Toronto's a big city. Where do you propose that I put the candles?
3. Excuse me, customer service? WTF? Do I get a salary for that? Sorry if this comes as a shock to you, Mr. Whitaker, but Toronto is not a product I am selling on your behalf. Toronto is where I live
. It is my home
4. Exactly how is talking down to your citizenry the way to make us all shiny happy friendly welcoming, er, average folks?
...surveys show today's tourists go home a lot less satisfied with their visits here than they did 10 years ago.
Fair enough, I can see why this would give the tourist board pause. Tourism is important to the economy, and word of mouth is important to tourism. Seriously, though, does the proposed remedy smack of desperate neediness to anyone else? Is this Toronto's "world-class city" obsession for the new millennium?
Still in the planning stages, the "We've been expecting you" campaign could include welcome buttons or signs, and extra training for hospitality staff. It could also mean a city-wide campaign on bus shelters, in subway stations and even bumper stickers on government cars.
Residents could be educated on the importance of tourism to the economy and the role they can play to make the city much more welcoming.
Royson James is rightly critical
of the hand-wringing, but makes some good points about the real problems:
So, why are industry officials nervous, edgy, saying things like, "We must take it to the next level. It's just not good enough?"
Because competitor cities are constantly upgrading and improving. Because fewer Americans are coming, worried or put off as they are by passport requirements and less buying power with the Yankee dollar.
Not that he's quite managed to avoid chiding us either:
Because local attractions are viewed as tired and visitors say, increasingly, they are not getting as much as they expected from their visits. Because more and more view our service as below expectations.
Because few outside the well-connected know that Toronto is a gem of a location. And those who do aren't telling enough about it.
Because Torontonians are at once too modest and too self-satisfied – not prone to brag about Toronto's achievements, unmotivated to compete for first place.
Unfortunately, his solution boils down to "better advertising." It might get us somewhere, but I don't think it's the whole story.
Here's my suggestion. Rather than haranguing the people who live here and fretting over what we can do to make random strangers from faraway places like us better, how about starting at home? Sell the city to Torontonians. Encourage us to explore a neighbourhood in another part of town. Play up the many different attractions we have. Explain how to get there using public transit. Publicize the routes of walking tours. Make it easier to get around by bike. Slap up some plaques to show more pride in local history. Charge less than bloody $20 to get into the ROM (ostensibly a public institution). Take down the 15-ft
sorry, information pillar in front of City Hall, which makes me want to spit every time I pass it (twice a working day, at minimum). Fix the TTC.
You want us to show pride in our city and make visitors feel welcome? Give us something to be proud of, tell us about it, trust us to be our typical friendly helpful selves, and get off our backs.