I love observing people and how they interact with one another. So it was of particular interest as I was sitting at lunch to watch an entire team practice in a ballet of epic failure one particular day. This goes back to what someone recently asked me about an entire city and what I felt their biggest problem with tourism is. But first, the team.
I was immediately taken aback as I ordered my lunch at the counter of this place by the two gentlemen, in uniform, sitting at a table behind me staring at their phones and talking about a sports team. It wasn’t so much that they were in uniform talking about this, but the colorful language they were using right adjacent to where the customers would place their orders, if they had had any besides myself.
Moments after placing my order a young lady came in and never got a greeting of any sort but she was clearly an employee as she went straight into the kitchen and came out wearing the company shirt. Her path in was past the two guys and also another young lady who was taking orders including mine. Not even a simple ‘hello.’
Those of you who know me know that I am no stranger to the salty talk. In fact, I could make a pirate blush. But I wouldn’t do it when in uniform (usually) and right in the customer space, either. But it gets worse. Apparently someone phoned in an order as mine was being delivered to me and the cook yelled over the counter at what I found out to be the manager, yes one of the sailor-speak guys in the company garb, asking how a certain dish is prepared.
The answer was, “they put pictures up there for retards like you buddy. Look at the picture!” Wow. I can see why this place was now a desolate wasteland instead of the once-thriving business I had been to in the past.
Now, the question someone asked me about the city and their biggest problem when it comes to tourism. That answer only took me a moment to conjure up - it was how people speak about this beautiful destination.
You see, like so many places the economic crash of 2008 was pretty hard on this city and, being a rural tourism destination, it still hasn’t quite recovered financially Furthermore, the biggest tourism draw in this tourism economy also closed shop in 2009, further rattling the economy. And, like so many downtown areas today, the Internet killed a lot of local retail businesses. People’s shopping habits changed and this Internet thing might be here to stay.
But all those things are just hurdles to overcome in the race of life. Yes, they’re big challenges, but there are other ways down the path.
This beautiful city is also on the second-oldest lake in the world and has the third cleanest air in the US. The nighttime stargazing is unreal and there’s hiking, kayaking, antique stores, a beautiful historic museum, a state park and much more for visitors to enjoy.
And those visitors are just the right distance away - about 9 million of them. Two gigantic population bases with all their daily life stress, traffic and pollution are within two hours of this bucolic rural playland.
While hard times and relatively low property prices are a bad thing for some, that means that artists from every discipline can afford to buy houses in this area so the talent pool of incredible artists is something to brag about.
But people look at some of the buildings in poor condition and some of the locals who also could use a makeover and focus on that. That’s human nature. You have ten fingers and ten toes (usually) but if you get a hang nail that’s all you’ll focus on. And, probably, it’ll be the finger you use most, even if you don’t spend much time in traffic.
I’ve literally heard people ask visitors why they’d want to come to ‘a dump like this’ city. Seriously. And I’ve heard people talk about this ancient lake in such derogatory terms that it would make even the fish question whether or not it’s the place to be. Trust me, it’s the place to be.
How we speak to our guests and our team can make all the difference. One of my favorite examples of great service is the imaginary town of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s. In that town they even treated the “town drunk,” Otis, with respect. In fact, they were so polite and respectful, calling a town Mayberry has become a supreme compliment.
So whether you’re the front counter person at a fish taco joint or the front counter person at a hotel or just a customer at the grocery store, the way we tell our story and the words we choose are really critical. And if your entire town is a tourism economy, those words can really make a difference in someone’s getaway and whether they tell their friends that they visited a real-world Mayberry or more of a tourism train wreck.
Written by Anthony Barthel, original photo by Anthony Barthel