Nfld. & Labrador

Come From Away is going global, and Gander is bracing for visitors

As an Australian production of the hit Broadway musical begins, Gander braces for even more tourism.

'We’re not even at the tip of the iceberg yet,' says chamber of commerce president

Hazel Bishop, president and CEO of the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce, shows off the town's new visitor passports. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

As the beloved musical Come From Away is performed in more countries across the world, globetrotters are heading to Gander in increased numbers.

It's a potential boom for tourism, and the town is trying its best to accommodate these new visitors, says the president and CEO of the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We're realizing that we have to get ready because we're not even at the tip of the iceberg yet," said Hazel Bishop. "Last night, Come From Away opened in Australia, and as it moves out and out, people are coming from everywhere."

The chamber's way of welcoming those guests is something called a "visitor passport."

"It's designed to entice visitors to get to know the areas we're involved with, Come From Away events and that, and to get an experience from it," she said.

"It tells stories along the way, plus it also highlights the Kittiwake Coast. So it's not just Come From Away — it's the whole Kittiwake Coast area."

The Gander visitor passport has points of interests for fans of the musical and suggestions for spots tourists can check out in the region. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The booklet has points of interests, co-ordinates for the real-life sites from the musical and suggestions for spots tourists can check out in the region. It costs $10, notes Bishop, but that also includes a chance to win a trip for two to Toronto, two nights' stay in Toronto, two tickets to see Come From Away, and $250 in spending money.

 Just this morning I had people here in the info centre that wanted to meet someone who was actually here when the event happened.- Hazel Bishop

The link between the musical and Gander's tourism boom is undeniable. Bishop sees the effects of the show's influence every day.

"We get people here daily, many people here daily … that have heard the story or heard the play of Come From Away, and they're looking for experiences when they come here," she said.

"Just this morning I had people here in the info centre that wanted to meet someone who was actually here when the event happened. I do this on numerous occasions."

Bishop estimates tourism has been going up four to five per cent a year since the play hit.

Gander Mayor Percy Farwell says the town is still playing catchup when it comes to meeting tourist demand. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

That's great news for Gander Mayor Percy Farwell. 

"There's a new type of tourist that's coming in now," Farwell said. "People want to come to Gander to see the sites that were referenced in the musical, that sort of thing." 

He wants to help tourists find those spots from their favourite theatrical production. 

"There will be very tastefully done interpretive signage at various locations around town," he says.

"The signage is in. There's about 12 six-foot signs and three 16-foot signs. So 15 large signs going around the community." 

Farwell admits this sort of work could have been done earlier. 

"We're playing catchup. I think initially when the musical was conceived and was launched on Broadway there was some indication that it could have an impact on tourism," Farwell said.

It's kinda nice having people around.- Percy Farwell

"I'm not sure anybody had an understanding of the degree to which it would, and the degree to which it would spread, and the spinoff productions in other countries."

Having to prepare for a flood of international tourists isn't a terrible problem for a small town to have, said the mayor.

"There's a big economic spinoff to tourism, so it's a benefit to the entire community — and it's kinda nice having people around."

Signs of those economic spinoffs are everywhere. Farwell found a board game called Gander-Opoly at a local department store, and he has no idea where it came from.

Farwell says he has no idea where Gander-Opoly, a board game based on the town, came from. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"This showed up on the shelves of Walmart. Interesting, eh?" he said. "If nothing else, this is an indication, an opportunity to use that to generate sales."

Inspired to visit

John Gregory is one of many tourists visiting Gander because of Come From Away. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

John Gregory, visiting Gander from San Diego, said he was inspired by the musical to verify the character of Gander for himself.

"The way the musical depicted the people of Gander, I thought, there's no place in the world where people can really be that nice. So I wanted to find out for myself," he said.

"So far I'm finding nice people."

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