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Tradition Meets Hospitality at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

At the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), in Whistler, BC, two cedar welcome figures flank the entrance, inviting guests to experience all the centre has to offer.

Much more than a museum, the complex, designed to reflect both a traditional Squamish longhouse and a Lil'wat Istken (earthen pithouse dwelling), is a vibrant cultural hub, showcasing the art, history and culture of the First Nations people living along BC’s Sea to Sky Corridor.

Winner of numerous awards, the SLCC is a high-profile example of BC’s growing, and successful, Aboriginal tourism sector.

Key to that success is the SLCC’s team of customer-facing staff, or Ambassadors. Members of the Lil’wat and Squamish nations, their jobs involve not just welcoming guests, but also interpreting their traditions and way of life for the 100,000 or so guests who drop by each year. 

Inviting the world to your home is no small undertaking, and it’s a challenge that all Aboriginal tourism businesses face: sharing their heritage in a way that is both culturally authentic and sustainable — all while providing service excellence.

This is where FirstHost comes in. This one-day workshop, offered by the Vancouver-based Native Education College, is based on the popular WorldHost Training Services program. Like WorldHost, it covers communications skills, interpersonal skills, and problem solving, but is designed specifically for Aboriginal-run businesses. Over 6,000 people across BC have taken the workshop since it was first launched in 1988.

What makes FirstHost unique, explains Trainer and Course Designer Sandra White, is its balanced approach to the relationship between hosts, guests, and the place where they meet.

“FirstHost looks at tourism as hospitality and emphasizes treating hosts and guests as equals. This is much more meaningful, exciting and motivating for staff. It attracts passionate people to the industry and it leads to service excellence because people are motivated to provide it,” she explains.

This approach also helps ensure that Aboriginal tourism works for both the guests and the host community:  “If you’re sharing your culture and bringing people into your community, you want to make sure that the numbers are sustainable. And, while the host is obliged to offer service excellence, the guest also has an obligation to be responsible when visiting a place.”

SLCC has offered FirstHost to its front-line staff since before it opened in 2008. “SLCC is one of the biggest organizations to facilitate FirstHost, all of our Ambassadors have been through the program, and we have in-house trainers now as well,” says Allison Burns, SLCC’s HR & Training Coordinator.

The benefits are easy to see, she adds: “FirstHost really helps with communications skills and confidence, and it gives staff a better understanding of how to approach different situations. It encourages people to open up to guests, and it really helps them identify with the place and what we have to offer here.”

“And it’s a good fit for the SLCC because we are a teaching organization. Whether it’s service skills, professional skills, or crafting skills, learning is part of our mandate.”


For information about FirstHost training, please contact:

Native Education College
285 East 5th Avenue, Vancouver, BC

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