My first visit to Prince George (PG) in 1981 was as part of a tour of BC radio stations with fellow BCIT broadcast journalism students. I recall waiting to depart from the Burnaby campus and observing the last of my classmates climb on board our bus carrying nothing but a 24-pack of beer and a toothbrush. I knew instantly it would be an unforgettable trip.
I’m sure the Inn of the North was relieved that our stay in PG was brief. Seems while our group was out for dinner one night, Jim 24-pack stayed behind and rearranged the numbers on every single hotel room door, wreaking havoc for both guests and hotel staff.
Whether guilty by association or not, I didn’t dare show my face in Prince George for the better part of three decades. However, since joining TIABC nearly eight years ago, I’ve visited BC’s northern capital at least a dozen times on business, even staying at the Inn on multiple occasions.
As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I love the north for many reasons, not the least of which is the people…who are some of the friendliest, helpful, down-to-earth, most resilient, hospitable, and forgiving folks you’ll ever meet. Just ask the delegates at this week’s BC Tourism & Hospitality Conference. Some two-thirds of attendees had never been to Prince George before and learned first-hand why this part of the province is so special.
At the opening reception, Northern BC Tourism and Tourism Prince George delivered a northern experience that delegates will be talking about all year. Aside from great food, entertainment and socializing with friends and colleagues, many attendees went snowshoeing or cross-country skiing for the first time at the wonderful Caledonia Nordic Ski Club..
Because the city remained under a deep blanket of snow all week, it created the kind of winter atmosphere that we had hoped for. More importantly, virtually all the delegates stayed within the conference centre throughout the day so the plenary sessions and workshops were well attended.
To be sure, there were some travels challenges…ironically not in Prince George but in Vancouver the day before the conference began. However, most delegates ultimately arrived thanks to the heroic efforts of our partners at Air Canada, as well as the other airlines that service PG. To an individual, the effort and patience to find a way to attend far outweighed long waits on the phone or at airports in other parts of BC to board a flight.
Every food server, bartender, guest services agent, bus driver, audio/visual technician, retail clerk, conference volunteer, and civic representative treated us like gold. PG Mayor Simon Yu couldn’t thank us enough for taking our conference to northern BC for the first time. He also asked everyone to help spread the word that his city is keen to welcome more visitors, especially given that the local economy is set to take a hit with the impending closure of two mills.
Stellar workshops, exceptional plenary sessions, and a wonderful Indigenous-themed BC Tourism & Hospitality Awards Gala were also among the highlights this week. I wish to offer my sincere thanks to our host partners (Tourism Prince George, Northern BC Tourism, City of PG, Lheidli T’enneh First Nation), our anchor partners (Destination BC, Indigenous Tourism BC) conference management team (ConnectSeven Group), volunteers, speakers, government officials, event and award sponsors, delegates, BCHA partners, and especially the community for making this year’s conference so unique and so successful.
To the best of my knowledge, no one pulled any practical jokes that will run me out of town for a long period of time again. If anything, this trip to PG will be unforgettable for all the right reasons.
I feel sorry for those that missed out on the 2023 BC Tourism & Hospitality Conference. Fortunately there is always next year in Victoria (March 6-8) or perhaps another opportunity to stage the event in the north somewhere down the road.