It was a public relations nightmare from the word hello. West Prince residents who travelled to Charlottetown to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the capital were turned away at the inn. A week earlier and the symbolism would have made the situation even more outrageous.
As a number of young people approached the reception desk to check in Dec. 31, they were given a welcome frostier than the frigid -30 C wind chill temperatures outside. The reason offered by the clerk was that West Prince residents had caused trouble in the past and anyone from that area wasn’t welcome to stay there.
Their reservations were rejected and shocked guests were told to go elsewhere or go home.
Yes, the hotel manager issued an apology several days later after a flood of irate phone calls - following a media spotlight on the issue. He said an employee made a mistake and vowed that this wasn't hotel policy or the way his establishment does business.
It is a far from satisfactory conclusion to this story. It cannot be allowed to end there.
Based on the anger coursing across the province on social and regular media in the days that followed, it is evident the problem is more widespread. While West Prince residents were singled out on New Year’s Eve, the problem is much broader.
A social media firestorm related how people from Souris, other areas of Kings County and rural parts of the province were also smeared with the same icy brush of rejection in similar incidents.
It’s discrimination based on geography. The reputation is unfair and undeserved - for anyone from Tignish, Alberton, O’Leary, Tyne Valley, Murray River, Souris or Morell.
Since the fiasco unfolded, there has been a stony silence from the city, downtown businesses, tourist operators, the chamber of commerce and most politicians. Where there should be universal condemnation, there has been hardly been a word spoken.
The city especially, fell down on this issue. The mayor should have extended an immediate olive branch to those who suffered embarrassment and inconvenience New Year’s Eve. He should have proclaimed that all Islanders are welcome to come and enjoy the city any time of the year - but especially in winter when Charlottetown depends so much on local traffic to support businesses, sports tournaments, winter festivals, music events and a dining experience.
The city should have immediately rejected the views of that misguided clerk. Those Islanders turned away at the inn should receive free accommodations. Restaurants should be knocking on their doors inviting them to enjoy a complimentary meal. They should be shown the good time in the capital that was denied to them two weeks ago. It might help them forgive and forget, and get rid of that bad taste. The city missed a chance to turn a disaster into a positive experience.
The widespread silence raises questions if that frosty reception was perhaps not so isolated and an anti-rural bias is more widespread than anyone knows or cares to believe.