While on a Rocky Mountaineer tour, columnist Catherine Ford met the rare tourism employee who gave exemplary service.
His name is John and Destination British Columbia should give him an award.I have never met a more helpful person — who had nothing to gain and nothing to lose — in the Canadian service industry. What did John do? He treated us without condescension, crabbiness or bored inaction. John did nothing more than be helpful, but he did so in such a way that we felt cared for. And in the Canadian service industry, that is something to be rewarded. Too many bored wait staff and ill-mannered “customer service” representatives make one believe they are doing you a favour by doing their job. It is a blight on our tourist industry.I did not get John’s last name, but he works at the counter of the bus depot right behind the Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria. I learned a lot from John in under 10 minutes: that there are people who care about others without being obsequious or bribed with money; that there are employees in this world who treat their job, however lofty or menial, as important.What did John do? He looked at our itinerary, said our travel voucher had us going from Victoria to the Vancouver bus depot. He said because we were staying at the Fairmont Waterfront that it made more sense for us to disembark at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and grab a taxi. He tagged our luggage, told us to sit inside the depot until the bus arrived. And because my husband uses a cane, said for us to go directly to the “priority boarding” line. Did he do much? No, but small details mean a lot when you’re in a different city.We were in Victoria via Vancouver on a glorious Rocky Mountaineer 10-day circle tour — Calgary to Calgary, taking in Lake Louise, Jasper, Kamloops, Vancouver, Victoria and Banff. Curiously enough, the train doesn’t actually arrive in or depart from Calgary, despite the obvious tracks and station. That explains the bus, although “motor coach” is the preferred name.Passenger train travel has become a luxury item in Western Canada. But for those old enough to remember The Canadian, it was a touch of nostalgia, only with better food, better service, cheerier staff and more accommodations than an upper bunk.Few Calgarians actually take this tour, living as we do within driving distance of all our stops. Even though we saw nothing we had not seen many times before, the view from the dome car was an experience in itself and gave us a unique perspective on our home.(Full disclosure: We paid full fare, were treated like all other passengers, and nobody in the company knew I was writing this.)John could give lessons in helpfulness to the staff at Calgary International Airport.One couple from Cape Cod, arriving from Boston, had no idea where to catch the designated bus to Lake Louise, where they would be put in the care of the very professional Rocky Mountaineer staff. They got, in their own words: “No info, no help.” They were jet-lagged, tired and cranky, having been on the go since 1 a.m. Calgary time and it was then past 1 p.m. Apparently, nobody at the airline or surrounding counters bothered to help them. Once they had deplaned, they were not the airline’s problem.I guarantee these people will return home and rave about their 10-day coach and train journey through the majestic Rockies, their excitement at seeing a grizzly bear and her tiny cub, mountain sheep and eagles; how pampered they were while on the train, fed and watered freely at no extra cost (and yes, that includes wine and spirits). And what will they say about Calgary, where their western adventure started? It won’t do much for our reputation.It is a good lesson for a city dependent on tourism, that it is not the big problems or the minor glitches that leave a sour taste. It is how we handle both that matters.The tourism industry in Canada brings in $90 billion a year and provides for 1.7 million jobs. John is one of those many million employees and his small gestures made a difference.Would YYC please hire him?Catherine Ford is a regular columnist with the Calgary Herald.