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Johanna Hamre and Oddvar Sorensen of Norway stopped in Yellowknife for a few days during a tour of the North.

Tourists take away happy memories

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 22/05) - Most tourists who stop in at the Northern Frontier Regional Visitors Centre are in an upbeat spirit, says Denie Olmstead, the centre's executive director.

A thick binder at the centre is filled with their impressions: "Great town; Nice to be back; Fascinating; A most interesting city; Can't wait to get back," travellers wrote.

"The only (negative) comment is the road - and it's more of a humorous comment than a negative connotation on Yellowknife," Olmstead said.

During the peak summer season, as many as 200 tourists stop in at the centre every day.

Since the beginning of the year, the centre has counted 5,323 visitors. Last year 14,382 tourists dropped in to ask directions and browse through the brochures.

Nancy MacNeill has worked at the front counter at the tourist centre for three seasons.

"A lot of people have been planning this trip for years or have been trying to come up to Yellowknife for their entire lives, so they're really excited to be here," she said.

Major attractions for visitors include the legislative assembly, the Wildcat Cafe, and local artisans.

Because many businesses cater specifically to what tourists want to do while in the city, such as providing tours or activities such as kayaking, she said the result is a positive and fulfilling experience for the visitor.

While at least one long-time resident and business owner in Old Town - Matthew Grogono - suggested lack of public washroom facilities may be an inconvenience to tourists walking about, Olmstead said that complaint has never surfaced at the centre.

"But considering that Old Town is a tourist designation when you get to Yellowknife, the businesses there, I hope, would provide those services for the visitors," Olmstead said.

Grogono said Old Town itself has an optimum opportunity to get involved in the international tourist industry.

"But if you think about what a tourist needs, that's a primary thing," he said.

There are improvements the business community could make to ensure tourists and residents have positive experiences, Olmstead said. "There isn't a high standard here for customer service. I think there is a lot of frustration from the business owners because there is a high turnover of staff and lack of staff."

A sign welcoming road travellers into the city would also be a pleasing gesture, he said.

"There's a sign that indicates the city limits, but that's about it.

"If you've driven all that way, you should be rewarded with something that has a nice welcome."

And having a recreational vehicle park to stay in would also be a benefit to tourists, he said.

Rob Mallory and his daughter Sarah flew up to Yellowknife from Fort Frances, Ont., to visit family.

After touring Pilot's Monument, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and boating on Great Slave Lake, the Mallorys said their first taste of Yellowknife was memorable.

"I think I'll move here," Rob mused.

Renting boats

Jeffery Witty at Pier 1 Marine in Old Town said tourists enjoy renting paddle and pontoon boats.

"They always seem to have a good time," Witty said. "We have the big lake here and a lot of people who come in from Edmonton don't otherwise have the opportunity to do those activities," Witty said.

Janet Hamilton works in Just Furs in Old Town.

"People like it because they get to see some of the history that's down here.

"They love the bead work and native work.

"But a lot of tourists expect more stores here in Old Town," Hamilton said.

For their first visit to North America, Johanna Hamre and Oddvar Sorensen of Norway included the North in their itinerary.

Arriving from Hay River by airplane, Hamre said they would have preferred to take a bus for their two-day visit to the capital. "We would have liked a city bus tour today but it's tomorrow which is too late for us," Hamre said.

To also ensure tourists have a positive experience, Olmstead said businesses should ensure the fronts of their shops are clean and free from debris and litter.

"And if they could, if they could just keep their signage lit up with every letter of their company name," he said of the large outside signs.

"People expect the same service and quality as the same stores down south."