Be a tourist in your own back­yard

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

At 150, it’s safe to say that Canada has aged pretty well.

It’s also safe to as­sume that most Cana­di­ans have a fairly de­cent grasp of their coun­try; its di­verse re­gions and cul­tures, and the land­marks and des­ti­na­tions that have be­come syn­ony­mous with trav­el­ling across our land.

The ma­jes­tic Rock­ies. The vast prairies. Thun­der­ing Ni­a­gara Falls. His­toric Que­bec City. Peggy’s Cove. You know them, but have you vis­ited? Cana­di­ans like to travel, flock­ing to New York City, or Florida, or head­ing over­seas to ex­plore Paris or Rome. All wor­thy des­ti­na­tions. But is 2017 the year to ex­plore a lit­tle closer to home?

Many in the tourism in­dus­try cer­tainly think so. Last fall, Lonely Planet chose Canada as its “des­ti­na­tion of the year” for 2017. Ear­lier this year, the New York Times ranked Canada as its top travel des­ti­na­tion. The rea­sons are many: a favourable ex­change rate; safety con­cerns in ma­jor des­ti­na­tions in Europe; an end­less va­ri­ety of at­trac­tions that co­in­cide with our year-long sesqui­cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion.

Fun and cul­tural aware­ness aside, tourism is big busi­ness. Nearly 20 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors came in 2016, with the ma­jor­ity, 13.9 mil­lion, com­ing from the U.S. To keep those in­trepid trav­ellers happy, fed and in­formed re­quires hun­dreds of thou­sands of jobs in the tourism sec­tor, ac­count­ing for roughly 11 per cent of the to­tal labour force. Gen­er­at­ing $90 bil­lion in to­tal eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, tourism is good busi­ness as well as na­tion-build­ing.

So by all means hop on a plane or train and see the sights. But re­mem­ber, some of the best-kept se­crets are right around the cor­ner.

It’s of­ten true that ci­ti­zens of a par­tic­u­lar city or area, hav­ing lived there for years, have never taken the time to ac­tu­ally be a tourist in their town. Dun­durn Cas­tle, the Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, the St. Ja­cobs mar­ket, all draw for­eign vis­i­tors but may re­main a mys­tery to folks lit­er­ally around the cor­ner.

Don’t know what’s out there to see? Start with a visit to your lo­cal tourism of­fice. There are a myr­iad of trea­sures. Towns found off the beaten path boast small museums that cel­e­brate and hon­our their his­tory.

Grab a hot­dog from Easter­brook’s. Dive into an or­der of fish and chips from Hutch’s on the Beach. Have a beer at Ok­to­ber­fest. Check out one of the dozens of fes­ti­vals in the area, from Fes­ti­val of Friends to Su­per­crawl. Thou­sands at­tend these events each year, but you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find a friend or neigh­bour who has never at­tended any of them.

On a tight bud­get? Hop on a bike and see things you typ­i­cally miss in a car. Find a free movie night at a lo­cal park. Head to your lo­cal li­brary for free pro­grams and events.

Be a tourist in your own back­yard.

Barry Gray

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