How to Make Friends and Create Extraordinary Experiences

We recently had the privilege of being part of the Stars of the City evening of recognition in Ottawa. This event, organized by Ottawa Tourism, pays tribute to all those who go the extra mile in making Canada’s Capital an extraordinary place to visit. We were especially proud to be on hand as we had nominated Nathalie Coutou, the owner of Khewa Native Art Boutique in Wakefield, Québec, in the “Hostess With The Mostess” category.

To our delight, she not only won her category, but she also took home the overall “Star of the City” award and a $4,000 credit from a local travel company.

Nathalie single-handedly turned a highly stressful situation for the sightseeing division of Haunted Walks Inc. (See Our City), into an unforgettable experience for everyone involved.

Here is the incredible story:

It was a mild and sunny Sunday morning in May. One of our most experienced guides was about to give a tour to a group at the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. It quickly became apparent that it would be impossible to reach the estate due to road closures in the park.

Our guide reached out to our Tour Manager and together, they scrambled to come up with contingency plans. Suddenly, the idea of a trip to the town Wakefield, Quebec was brought up. But would anything be open at 10am on a Sunday? A call was made to the first place that might be of interest for our group: Khewa Native Art Boutique.

A charming woman, Nathalie, answered the phone. After learning of our predicament and discussing options with us, she made a decision. Even though she hadn’t planned on opening her gallery that morning, she was going to do just that and be ready to meet our group at 10am, whether our tour participants ultimately decided to visit or not. She even offered to give a short presentation on the pre-colonial history of the area.

A short while later, our guide met her group and broke the news to them that they would not be going to Gatineau Park but that she had a special destination in mind. The group was visibly disappointed. When they arrived at Nathalie’s gallery she greeted them warmly as they entered and asked them to follow her out the back door. She then led everyone up the hill to the teepee she had her family set up that very morning for our group. She sang and drummed a traditional song of welcome, which moved several of the people in the group to tears. At that point, Nathalie’s husband appeared, handing her sage on an abalone shell and she gave a vivid description of the smudging ceremony. She shared the story of the indigenous peoples of the area and invited everyone back into the gallery so they could have a look around. Once inside, Nathalie explained to the group that each piece in the gallery had a story, one she would be happy to share if anyone was interested.

As the group ended their 2-hour excursion back in Ottawa, our guide was approached by a number of people who told her: “We were so disappointed at first but this kind of experience is exactly why we travel.” Or: “We were meant to be there today. Thank you.”

The story of how Nathalie Coutou saved the day was so extraordinary, we decided to make it our customer service case study during our annual spring training with our entire staff (over 60 guides) in Ottawa, Kingston, and Toronto. Needless to say, our entire team was greatly inspired by Nathalie’s kindness and generosity in coming to our aid.

Congratulations Nathalie, we’re so proud and happy that your hospitality and thoughtfulness was recognized by your peers in the tourism industry. You really are a “Star of the City!”