Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

How the Tourism Industry can help Syrian Refugees

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 02.12.16


BC's Tourism Industry: Help Welcome Syrian Refugees!

BC’s Tourism Industry: Help Welcome Syrian Refugees!


When it comes to the conflict in Syria, you’ve probably heard some of the staggering and sobering numbers. Since the Syrian civil war began, 320,000 people have been killed, including nearly 12,000 children. 1.5 million people have been wounded or permanently disabled and 4.3 million refugees are in need of resettlement. It is the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.


The situation can seem dismal, and the problems so widespread, that local Canadian businesses might be perplexed as to how they can help? You may think you have to sponsor a family or contribute large amounts of cash to make a dent in those stats, yet even small businesses can lend a hand, especially if you’re in the tourism industry.


The idea might seem crazy. Surely, refugees need practical help like resettlement services, training programs and language services? But we already know that these resources are stretched to the limit with the care and intake of hundreds of immigrants who come into Canada every year. And though many local businesses have pitched in and are already contributing free flights, free apartments and other necessities to the incoming Syrian refugees, other business sectors can help by doing things that large corporations and settlement services can not. Such as…


Create a Welcoming Environment


Help Syrian Families Adjust to Life in BC

Help Syrian Families Adjust to Life in BC


Since the war in Syria began, massive amounts of refugees have sought homes in nations across the globe, in countries such as Canada. Our federal government, in fact, pledged to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees (government-assisted or privately sponsored) over the next year. And the process has already started. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2,374 Syrian refugees have already been resettled in Canada between Jan. 2014 and Aug. 24, 2015. Before the end of February, 2016, it is expected that about 2,500 more of these individuals will settle in B.C, with the majority living in the Metro Vancouver area.


Yet the biggest hurdle to successful resettlement is not always the acquisition of the basic necessities such as clothing, housing or food. A successful outcome for these families often begins with easy access to information, resources, and to local communities that can help newcomers understand their new surroundings and their new cultural context.


The tourism sector, because it is already set up to welcome and orient travellers to our city, could offer venue space to host community and networking events for refugees. “Which can be just as important as providing clothing or food donations,” explains marketing event planner and personal life-coach, Manpreet Dhillon MA, CHRP, “because they create a sense of belongingness and acceptance.”


Events could focus on the promotion of diversity and cultural exchange. This may help dispel some fear and reluctance on the part of some Canadians, as they get to know their new Syrian neighbours on a more personal level. “Community events help to create a deeper understanding of the people who are our neighbours, and in a relaxed and fun environment,” explains Dhillon. It would also help refugees connect with people in their local cultural communities and give them a sense of ‘home’ as they connect with Canada’s already vibrant immigrant population.


Charitable organisations could also use venue space to host a fundraiser. Personal and community sponsors would welcome the offer of a free venue, as this is often one of the larger expenses.


Learn about their New Home


Newcomers will naturally want to familiarize themselves with their new country. Once they arrive, they will be curious about their new home and will probably want to learn more about it. One thing refugees will lack, though, is the knowledge of where to go for this information and also the funds to sight-see and to explore. Their sponsors, if they have one, may not have the time, or the knowledge, to help them.


If you run a local tourism group, why not have a special day where local area merchants specifically welcome Syrian refugees? Acquaint them with local businesses and connections. Alert them to where they can shop, eat and access services they will require in the future. Museums or cultural attractions could offer free admission. Bus tour companies could provide free city orientation tours with interpreters.


“Free admission to museums, art galleries, cultural events and local attractions is strongly encouraged,” explains Alisa Choi Darcy, President and Founder of the Vancouver-based multicultural marketing agency Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy (QEQ). “That way, newcomers can learn about Canadian culture, customs and historical significance.” In fact, her agency is already working with the tourism community to create events and programs that can help refugees and immigrants learn about their new Canadian home.


Free Admission to Local Attractions and Events can Help Syrians Acclimate to Their New Home

Syrian Newcomers can Learn about BC through Free Admission to Local Events and Attractions


“Museums, in particular, can be helpful to orient and educate those new to Canada,” explains Myles Constable, Marketing Officer & Media Relations for the Museum of Vancouver. “While Canada is a relatively young country, stories told through belongings, artifacts, art and multimedia displays help showcase the communities that have helped shape Canada into the diverse, vibrant and socially-conscious country that it is today.”


But, if you’re worried about your bottom-line, or you’re afraid to lose out on regular business,why not offer a reduced rate to Syrian refugees, and their host families, on days you might see a natural slump in visitors? Off-season is a perfect time to do this, when business and tourist levels naturally slow in B.C. “Provide a weekday morning when refugee families can attend your attraction at a reduced rate,” suggests Darcy. “If you have multi-lingual staff, have a special day where refugees can access them as interpreters, to better understand your exhibits, participate in activities or understand presentations. This will not only encourage Syrian newcomers to visit, but may also interest local ethnic communities. And once they learn more about your venue, established immigrants could be encouraged to bring their visiting families and friends from overseas – which could lead to increased business. A win-win.”


If you’re outside of the urban centre, why not host a special event to educate Syrian newcomers about what to do and what to see in your region? Some of them might even be inspired to settle there, bringing with them an influx of talents, skills and much needed labour.


Hire a refugee or Host a Job Fair


The last and most important way the tourism sector can help is to hire a Syrian refugee.

Some people may think that refugees will take our jobs, drain our economy, that they’ll be unwilling to work hard, or will cost more to train. But, remember, many refugees are already well-educated and can provide many useful skills. And people who are facing desperate circumstances, and who are given the chance to work, will often be loyal and hard-working employees. Research shows that, over time, refugees will out-earn even those who come from a more affluent, business-class background


You might also worry that their English or French language skills may be lacking and that you can’t employ them if they can’t speak your language. But, recall that those selected to come here are also provided with enhanced settlement services, which includes free language classes to help them integrate. For example, at QEQ, interns with varying levels of English are accommodated through peer language coaching and translation services such as Google Translate


But the benefits of hiring a Syrian refugee are often overlooked. In the tourism industry that can mean many things. By hiring a refugee, you can diversify your team’s language capabilities to service Arabic- speaking visitors. You can learn about Syrian culture and perhaps tap into the refugee community that will one day be part of your local business. Or why not host a special tourism industry job fair for refugees and find a new way to connect to another emerging tourism market?


Long-term Benefits


A Diverse Society often leads to Innovation and Job Creation

A Diverse Society often leads to Innovation and Job Creation



If they are given opportunities to contribute, and if they are integrated quickly, our new neighbours will in fact add to the Canadian economy. Over the next 20 years, it is projected that Syrian refugees will have contributed an estimated minimum of $563 million in local economic activity. And as they gain employment, they will contribute tax dollars to public goods such as the judiciary, street lights, national defense and fire departments.


Immigrants also have a long history of helping to grow the local economy, as they tend to be highly entrepreneurial and are about 30% more likely to start a business of their own.


Also, remember, that the refugees of today will also form the consumer base of tomorrow. As these Syrian families grow, they will form their connections here, buy here and make their consumer decisions here. They will become your best ‘word of mouth’, your local tourists and also act as tour guides for the next wave of newcomers and visitors. As well, they will act as proud Canadian ambassadors to the emerging Arabic-speaking market, and will tell the world how welcoming Canada can be.


To learn more about what you can do, visit the Government of Canada site #WelcomeRefugees, for more info.

To welcome and connect with Syrian refugees, and other newcomers to Canada, contact Alisa Choi Darcy at alisa@quoteendquote.ca

To be part of the conversation, join us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.


Images: Collage Images provided By Tourism Langley, the Museum of Vancouver and Domnic Santiago via Flickr Creative Commons; Image of Syrian Girl with Canucks Sign provided by S.U.C.C.E.S.S