It's 5.30 a.m. I can't sleep. I wander over to the large Sheraton hotel room window 16 stories up. Outside, from stacks littered across my hazy panorama, smoke plumes fill the air, curling and climbing against a dark sky. Far out across the bay, I spot the Burlington Skyway transporting cars towards Toronto and Niagara even at this hour.
Does Ted Flett sleep soundly one floor above? He's paid to convince those drivers on the Skyway to change direction, head this way. Flett is Media Officer for Tourism Hamilton. With youthful looks and long, blonde hair, he reminds me of General George Custer about to meet Sitting Bull. He and his team have assumed a gargantuan task. How do you sell a lunch pail community to tourists? How do you transform Steel City into an enticing vacation package? How to restore respect?
The first strategy is to sell Hamilton to the tourism industry. David Adames, Executive Director of Tourism
Hamilton, and Flett have successfully bid for the annual Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) Conference and AGM, held in St. John's, Newfoundland the previous year. TMAC is composed of the best travel writers in Canada and all of the industry corporate heavyweights. Ecstatic participants agreed that the warm Newfie charm and hospitality would be an impossible act for Hamilton to replicate.
Nonetheless, TMAC members are assembled in the renovated, ($18.2 million) Art Gallery of Hamilton on schedule to re-open in May, sipping Niagara wine and munching tasty hors d'oeuvres while the mayor, resplendent in a tuxedo, informs us that TMAC attendance has set a new record with 236 participants gathered from Canada and the United States. After listening to enthusiastic Louise Dompierre, AGO President and
CEO, and watching impressive slides of the Tanenbaum Collection, cultured types leave for a Mozart opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, in adjacent Hamilton Place, a comfortable, well-appointed concert hall and auditorium. Wait a minute; is this Hamilton, home of Dofasco and the Tiger Cats?
Yup. It's also home to the Royal Botanical Gardens, McMaster University, Dundurn Castle, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, African Lion Safari and a host of other treasures of which many people are blissfully
unaware. Not after this conference!
Gillian Marx, Media Relations Officer for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, estimates that the TMAC Conference in St. John's netted $2 million worth of public relations in subsequent stories filed in newspapers and magazines. The stakes for Flett are big.
"People tend not to look closely at ads, but they read the travel stories," says Bob Fischer, CBC News-in-Review editor for 12 years. "Industry takes the column sizes, adds them up, factors in appropriate ad rates and multiplies by a factor of four, the industry standard," explains, Ellen Flowers, Media Relations Manager for Toronto.
Having Tourism Minister, Jim Bradley, on board doesn't hurt. A strong advocate for the Hamilton-Niagara corridor and the longest serving member in the legislature, he delivers a keynote address with the grace
and self-deprecating humour we've grown accustomed to associate with his savvy, just-plain folk's demeanor. (Afterwards, for ten minutes, we chat about the Brock Badgers men's basketball team, his true passion.)
To showcase Hamilton area tourism industry partners, writers were escorted on afternoon tours to antiques, artisans, heritage, the steel industry or the waterfront. I selected potters and thirty of us produced Raku pieces at Don Zver's studio in Troy. We glazed and fired small pre-cast bowls, delivered later to our hotel concierge, Wesan Metalli. I advised Wesan to be on the lookout for one masterpiece and a lot of riff raff.
The archaic term for the introduction to a news story is lede, skillfully designed to draw the reader in. TMAC sponsors a lede contest award to whoever best accomplishes this task with the host city as subject.
Toronto freelancer, Kate Pocock, penned the following winning tribute: "The bellboy carefully placed my
suitcases onto the luggage rack. But instead of pointing out
the view of the harbour and the tall concrete pipes puffing smoke outside my window, he talked about the Valley of the Kings, the dead Pharaoh who slept forever with a skylight view of the moon and the Red Sea filled with fish. It was the place where his parents came from. The next day, my tour guide showed us the north end of the city where his German parents had put down roots. For over a century, clutches of Portuguese and Italian, Austrian and Asian immigrants had taken turns gathering around smokestacks and the cranes and the mountains of ash, products of steel scrapings. But then, this was also the place called 'Shift City.' The shifting continues."
Another Toronto writer, Betty Zyvatkauskas, was awarded second place for: "Although it's just a collection of
old machinery, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum regularly moves people to tears.
I felt weepy looking at the restored Dakota just like the one Ingrid Bergman boards at the end of Casablanca. But it wasn't the old movie that stirred me. It was knowing that my father-in-law navigated one of these over the jungles of Burma. Joe and his fellow airmen parachuted supplies, including live mules, to British infantry fighting the toughest battles of the Second World War."
I suppose Tourism Hamilton banks heavily on the theory, "write it and they will come," but the bottom line for tourism partner, Glenn Sampert, Sheraton Hotel G.M., is that "Hamilton is no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of Canadian travel destinations." Thanks to gifted promoters like Flett and Adames, it's now Tom Cruise but alas, without Nicole Kidman.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/