SARANAC LAKE - The village Board of Trustees took another step Thursday in the effort to make Saranac Lake more welcoming to French-speaking visitors from north of the border.
The board agreed to have former Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce director Sylvie Nelson provide one-year of French translation services and French-language social media services to the village. In exchange, she'll get a family ski pass to the village-run Mount Pisgah Ski Center, which would normally cost $340 for a village resident.
Nelson, who was born in Montreal and speaks French, recently started a new company called Adirondack Executive Services that provides French translation and media and public relations services to businesses, along with guided tours and other services.
"She will start and maintain a Facebook page, for one thing, in French so that we can promote our community to the Francophone market in Quebec and Ontario," said village Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
The move follows a decision by trustees earlier this month to make the village's signage bilingual over time. At its Dec. 10 meeting, the board approved a resolution that says that when replacing old, damaged and obsolete signage, the village will do so with English and French signage "as long as the cost is comparable to unilingual signage." It also says the village will try to add French translation to its news and advertising, when it's practical. The policy will apply to the village's parking and informational signage.
"I'd like to see us, as a community, reach out to our Francophone neighbors and try to increase our tourism and marketing potentially," Rabideau said at the Dec. 10 meeting. "Will this, in and of itself, bring those 4 million people to our doorstep? No. But it's part of a larger process where we reach out, advertise, be more hospitable and really market to the Francophone marketplace just north of us. It seems the most likely place for us to capitalize upon."
Trustee Barbara Rice said the branding and marketing of the area to Canadian visitors is a big topic of discussion lately, particularly in conversations with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, based in Lake Placid.
Rabideau said the signage policy is a starting point for those discussions.
"With the general policy, we can go to ROOST and other meetings and say we have a mandate from our board that says we want to increase our advertising and make it bilingual, whether its on our website, our Facebook page or direct advertising," he said.
The new signage policy was applauded by village resident Rich Shapiro, who spoke at the Dec. 10 meeting on behalf of the chamber. He said the chamber wants to partner with the village to make the community more friendly to French-speaking tourists, and he noted that the chamber recently hosted a "French for business" seminar where basic French language phrases and customs were taught to local businesses.
"It is imperative our businesses, whether chamber members or not, be able to communicate in at least a very basic way with our northern neighbors," Shapiro said. "They are so close to us and the tourism potential is so large that we must work together to make bilingual signage and advertising a reality."
Shapiro said his only concern was that the policy states signage will be converted to bilingual when the cost is comparable to normal signage. Since bilingual signs will need to be larger, they could cost more, he noted.
Rabideau said he thinks the policy is flexible.
"If we have to go a little extra to add a little bit of French, (the cost is) comparable, in my estimation," he said.
Following the board's decision Thursday night to use Nelson's services, Rabideau said he believes the village is on the right track.
"I think the exchange is a plus for the village because of the amount of time it would take us to maintain and administer a Facebook page for the Francophone market," he said. "If we do it right I think we can get a lot of exposure, so I thank (Nelson) for doing that. It's to our gain."
The new focus on marketing the community to French speakers also sparked a few laughs at Thursday night's meeting.
"Are we going to get French lessons because I'm a little rusty," Trustee Allie Pelletieri quipped at one point. "That and typing we're not my best subjects."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.