After a month on the road for work (Atlanta, Edmonton, Detroit, Windsor, Buffalo, Owen Sound, Mount Forest, Markham etc) it struck me that cities make a powerful impression on visitors on so many levels.
First impressions matter. Arriving in Atlanta airport was a shock given my preconceptions about the city. As I tweeted on arrival, the airport was modern and beautiful – a combination of a luxury mall and art gallery (that you go through to get to baggage claim).
But as great as the airport is, it was the people that impressed me the most.
From cab drivers to hotel staff to people on streets they were FRIENDLY. Not just polite, they went out of their way to serve us.
Examples? Cab drivers opening the doors even when we had no luggage, a server giving us their staff discount because they felt bad we had a wait, a man on the street who approached just to ask if he could help us find something, a bartender doubling our drink order for free because, as she said when I remarked on it: “Aw it’s just southern hospitality – we welcome ya’ll”.
I know, I know what’s not to be friendly about in a balmy Olympic city like Atlanta? But their service orientation and their attitude strips us of the claim that we are the polite ones. Not compared to them. They are polite AND friendly.
Pearson does not show our culture and arts like Atlanta and the arrival area at Hamilton airport is downright depressing. On a flight a few years ago, all the arriving passengers I was with were mocking the rundown, dowdy arrival area. I had to regretfully agree.
The way the world visits our city by road is not much better – nothing makes me more crazed than seeing small towns across Ontario who have welcome signs (we have no welcome signs!!!) and some even have memorable branding (my personal favourites is “Welcome to Mount Forest – High, Happy, and Healthy).
And ask yourself honestly:do we have welcoming attitudes? Do we make people feel special when we see them? Do we communicate pride about our city?
Sure, Atlanta has distinct advantages over Hamilton. And Buffalo, and Detroit are no prize (morning radio shows in the Motor City make you feel downright lucky to live in Hamilton because they are so depressing – as one guest said “for years we saw the problems coming and did nothing as a city and now it is knocking on our door saying ‘I’m gunna kill you’”) but we can do better.
Aren’t we friendly people who appreciate tourists? Aren’t we proud that our city is on the upswing? Isn’t our city interesting and in many places even beautiful? Can’t we put welcome signs on our highways (lets stop fighting about the branding and just say WELCOME) and showcase our culture at our airport arrival area? (ask our vibrant arts culture I’m betting they will jump at the exposure).
We can do better Hamilton. We can improve how people experience our city and it is not up to our tourist office.
It’s up to us.
Lameck Bonjisi’s Caring Mother in the Hartsfielf-Jackson Atlanta International Airport