By Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru
For a long time, the word “Bienvenue” has accompanied “Welcome” on signs at entry points into New Hampshire. Now, owing to dedicated effort by a handful of educators and state government officials, Bienvenue au New Hampshire has taken on an expanded purpose.
Back in 2012, Plymouth State associate professor, Kate Harrington, was looking for a teaching technique to stimulate her students’ interest in studying French. She accomplished this by showing them practical applications of foreign language study.
Harrington’s next step was to convince a wider audience about the utility of the French language in New Hampshire. Soon, a group of like-minded individuals had formed Bienvenue au New Hampshire, including Plymouth State sociologist Ben Amsden; Chuck Henderson from US Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s office; Benoit Lamontagne, the North Country Industrial Agent in New Hampshire’s Department of Business and Economic Affairs; and Tim Egan, a media analyst.
The group recognized that a rudimentary knowledge of the French language would go a long way in appealing to hundreds of thousands of Qu?b?cois and other Canadian Francophones who travel to or through New Hampshire each year.
Research showed the group that, while approximately two hundred thousand French speaking Canadians visit New Hampshire annually, this number pales in comparison to visits engendered by the bordering states of Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The organizers looked appreciatively at efforts by Plattsburgh, New York, Burlington, Vermont, and several Maine communities to attract and serve Francophones. Clearly, there was much ground to make up.
New Hampshire’s statistical disadvantage made little sense to the group, given the outstanding set of attributes that the Granite State offers to potential visitors from the north. These include sales tax-free shopping, warm water beaches in close proximity to retail outlets, and the existence of longstanding French Canadian cultural ties.
Bienvenue au New Hampshire has impacted this state’s market share by assisting the Littleton, North Country, and Greater Mt. Washington Valley chambers of commerce to develop bilingual visitors’ guides, and has contributed to the readiness of Appalachian Mountain Club and White Mountain National Forest volunteers to host French speaking visitors.
The Bienvenue team has gained the attention of state and federal officials by emphasizing two components, one focusing upon research and the other on education.
A survey was designed and administered to hikers, a favorite activity of Qu?b?cois visitors. This work has addressed two concerns: a) alleviating the substantial parking problem along the Franconia Notch Parkway (many of those cars belong to Qu?b?cois seeking to climb the state’s 48 four thousand foot mountains); and b) introducing this audience to the variety of accommodations and additional activities available to them in other parts of New Hampshire.
This is where the education component comes into play. Bienvenue au New Hampshire believes strongly that basic language skill and cultural literacy will go a long way in attracting visitors into New Hampshire and convincing them to return. International travelers do not expect fluency on the part of locals. However, a small effort to exhibit knowledge of basic French terms and Canadian folkways is regarded as a symbol of respect.
Toward this end, Harrington devised an educational component that she has shared with volunteers with the AMC, WMNF, and others. By introducing simple phrases, and providing materials in French that highlight individual businesses, attractions, and festivals, Bienvenue au New Hampshire has improved Qu?b?cois’ New Hampshire experience.
In the future, Harrington will have her students focus on social media. The Bienvenue au New Hampshire website will provide information designed to draw Canadian Millennial and younger generations off of the beaten path, thereby spreading the wealth away from traditional tourism hotbeds.
Plymouth State is now committed to a clustering educational philosophy. In that vein, Bienvenue has been a principal contributor to the North Country Development Project, an effort combining the efforts of the university’s marketing, graphic arts, and French faculty toward the advancement of business and tourism interests north of the notches. If Harrington has her way, the university’s service region will be stretched north of the international border very soon.
After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joins IndepthNH.org to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.
For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit www.markokrant.com.
For information on current things to do in New Hampshire, go to: http://www.visitnh.gov/what-to-do/event-calendar.aspx