It was a whirlwind of a trip down to New York city to meet a large group of tourism officials from Canada. Their goal was to network with journalists like me to pitch story ideas about the vast country. Our job was to visit as many as we could in 15 minute speed dating sessions and find out how well we could match their needs.
What I came away with the most, besides how amazingly friendly and open our Northern neighbors are, is how prosperous Canada seems compared with other parts of the world. I sat down with a woman from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who told me about this huge new museum dedicated to human rights they were building, and also a replica of the area around Churchill where polar bears can be seen. An entire park will be built in the prairie to give visitors that Churchill experience. “We going to be richer than Alberta!” she said, because they have even more oil than their wealthy neighbor.
It was clear that the country as booming, as these tourism folks showed me where we could travel on maps, and flipped through iPads showing happy scenes of crowds in big outdoor concerts and close-ups of fine cuisine. I heard many stories of Newfoundlanders who have left their eastern province to get high-paying jobs in the oil fields of Alberta. There are almost as many Newfies out there as there are in the East, I heard.
I contrasted this experience, of generous plenty, to what I’ve seen when I’ve done the same thing with a large group of European tourism boards. First, many of the big name countries like Italy aren’t even there. Then you keep hearing about how they can’t fly you over, and how things are tight, and budgets are cut, and being cut more. It’s not what you hope to hear when you’re trying to set up a press trip.
In South America, too, times are prosperous. I was in Cartagena and Bogota in February and heard about their recent oil and gas discoveries, and about a 6 percent economic growth rate last year. Entrepreneurs told us how easy it is to set up their tourism business. People were giddy with the way the rest of the world is discovering their country and they’re launching a catchy new tourism campaign to keep the momentum.
The Canada show was highlighted by star travel writer Andrew McCarthy, who spoke about the big country as a demure women he once met on a movie set. She’s confident, and you take her for granted, but when she opens her mouth you’re moved by her beauty, her grace and her genuine friendliness that at first you overlooked. Go Canada!