I would like to introduce you to our guests …

We all breathe a collected sigh of relief when Labour Day passes. Kind of a “Phew, we did it!” moment. Our “phew” moment doesn’t really come till the end of October and I am always counting down the days till I can sit in my jammies and sip my morning coffee. Next year will be our twentieth year at the inn (how did that happen!) and the last two have been particularly busy ones. I should be curled up in a semi-comatose state but here I am struggling to write this piece for you. Why then?  Because I want to introduce you to your “tourists” and to share with you who they are, why they are here and what they experience. We have such lovely people come to stay and I think that gets lost in the whole “tourism” conversation.

We tend to forget how staggeringly beautiful our Valley is and how lucky we are to know what fresh air smells like, what quiet sounds like and what dark looks like. But each season, when travellers arrive from all around the world (we had guests from 24 countries this year), I get to see the Valley through their eyes and am reminded to not take it for granted.

One young woman from the UK, with a look of total awe on her face, after coming back from Algonquin park said,

I have never seen anything like it. It was absolutely incredible. I will never forget it.

I know she won’t.

Beyond a doubt, Algonquin Park is the number one tourism draw in our area. The Madawaska Valley is very fortunate to be on the Ottawa–Algonquin Park route. Most overseas travellers head here from  Montreal or Toronto, often doing circular routes, which will take in Gananoque and Kingston too. But, and it still amazes me when this happens, some guests drive straight from Toronto airport to our inn, spend a week in Algonquin and the Valley, then fly home again. Humbling. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world …” Well, you get my drift.

This year, our guests were overwhelmingly European. There are so few wild spaces left in Europe and people are willing to cross the ocean to get away from it all. We have found, over the past few years, that the average age of these guests has dropped drastically and the length of stay has increased. Both things are fantastic. These delightful young people are here to get back to nature. They want to get into the forests and wild places. They want to hike and paddle. See moose and bear. Breathe fresh air, listen to the quiet and see the stars. They are not disappointed. Many will and do return. Honeymooners from Germany that stayed with us years ago returned this year with their children so they could spend time again in our “hood.”

blackboard-guest-signatures

Guest messages written on the Inn’s blackboard (Photo submitted)

We had so many guests from China last year and this fall that our catchphrase at the inn was, “China has come to visit.” Visits to Canada from China were up 11.8 percent in 2017 from 2016. That is 680,000 people! Our beautiful lakes are high on their list of must-sees and October is their preferred month to visit because of the leaves and, serendipitously, our autumn coincides with China’s week-long holiday in October called “Golden Week.”

Our Chinese visitors are on the move to see and experience as much possible. Who can blame them when they have travelled so far? Usually they stay for one night. Often one person in the party will have some English, but not always, and I think how brave they are to travel without the language, translation apps aside. They are keen and excellent photographers. I had one group of women who had gotten half way to the Park only to come back because they hadn’t taken a picture with me. (Tears welled up, I can tell you.) They are interested and appreciative of any help you may offer. One couple with little English whom I helped find a room late one October night, drove back 20 minutes the next morning to present me with a tin of “special tea” before carrying on once more towards the Park. (Again, the tears welled up. I really have to work on that.)

If I could have you take away one thing it would be to see the individuals who come to stay not as tourists, but as people paying us an incredible compliment by choosing to visit our area. I know the stores get crazy and we may have to wait at the stop sign longer than usual, but of all the places in the world, these really gracious people have come to our Valley and they love it here. How great is that?

 

About the author: Nancy Fortune is a Ryerson University hospitality grad who has worked in the industry from the age of 14. She and her chef husband, Warwick, built a cottage in the Madawaska Valley in 1982 and moved here with their two children in 1992. They opened Fortune’s Madawaska Valley Inn in 1999. This year, the inn hosted guests from Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, China, Portugal, the UK, USA, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark, Turkey, Finland, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and Israel.

Featured photo: Brett Zeck on unsplash.com

11 Comments

  1. Al Best

    Yep! The matter of the importance of our natural environment received many mentions in public meetings leading to the development of the Strategic Plan for our beautiful valley. We owe a duty of care for this environment to our grandkids and their grandkids. A complete shoreline assessment was conducted on Carson, Trout, Lepine, and Greenan Lakes in the summer of 2018 and individual property reports will be available to all property owners on these four lakes in the Spring of 2019. This is just a start toward our mission. Visit http://www.ctlglakes.com for more.

  2. Joanne Olsen

    Wow Nancy! Always knew you were a talented woman but now we know you are an amazing writer and great ambassador for the Valley. Thank you for reminding us of how fortunate we are.

  3. Carl Bromwich

    Great article Nancy!
    Sounds like we have a ready made “Eco-Tourism” destination here? We do! We don’t even have to designate special roped off areas for viewing or a fenced in “ natural space” that has to be “gussied up” to present visitors with what our area “ used to look like” !
    We are living in a natural pristine landscape that is open to not only human beings but indigenous animals that roam freely, sometimes through our back yards.
    We could feature Eco Tourism as a separate marketing strategy but I believe that tourists should discover on their own why we call our Valley “beautiful, wild, clean, quiet, peaceful, and natural”. Something that is getting more and more scarce in this day and age.
    Now the big job we must embrace with all the increased interest numbers coming here for their special moments is keeping our beautiful Valley in that natural and pristine condition.
    No matter what Development is offered up by investors or how many people want to locate here we are all in agreement that this land has to be cared for like the jewel it has been and will be for generations to come.
    Caring folks like you Nancy will inspire others to think that way.

  4. Nancy Checko

    A wonderful article, Nancy, and it reminds me of my years in Algonquin Park.
    Our visitors leave…excited over their visit…rejuvenated…wanting more. And our local communities made this the memorable experience it was by welcoming them to our area, accommodating and meeting their needs, and offering advice and guidance so they could find the places and things they were seeking. Not everyone can call Madawaska Valley “home” but we can share our love for what it offers with pride, enthusiasm, and gratefulness.

  5. Sharon Gardiner

    Thanks for putting things into perspective Nancy. You remind us that we DO live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you remind ME to shift my thinking on those blasted tourists. I will try to have more patience with them when they don’t know where they are going. I will be kinder when they block traffic because they are trying to get a signal on their devices. I will show gratitude always, because they could have gone any where in the world but they chose here. When I am travelling to a foreign country, the thing that always sticks out most in my mind is how the people/the locals made me feel. I’m going to make sure I do my part in making them feel welcome. Great article Nancy…you have inspired me!!

  6. Johanna Zomers

    Lovely article Nancy! My most rewarding memories of our decade as innkeepers in Wilno are also centred around our guests who inspired us to fly the flags of their many homelands in our deck every summer. Some mornings, our dining room looked and sounded like the United Nations as people set off for their day in Algonquin! I have made lifelong friends with repeat guests and yes, I too, used to cherish the Tuesday after Thanksgiving which was always the first day off after Polish-Kashub weekend in May!

  7. Linda Neuman

    Great article Nancy and thanks for sharing your summer experiences with us. We do live in a wonderful area and I consider myself so blessed. Happy to hear that you had such a successful season and thank you for representing our valley so graciously.

  8. Yvette Boudreau-Smith

    What a great article Nancy, very well written. You really captured the spirit of some of the wonderful moments those of us in accommodation get to experience. It is always very special when you can see the wonder in the tourists eyes and how much they are overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificence of our area. If they have been lucky enough to see a moose in the park…or even a deer in our backyard here at the Pinewood Inn, they are so grateful for the experience.
    And yes, by the end of October it is time for rest….as I sit here in my jammies. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *