Fort Collins plans state-first tourism program

Posted 05/19/2014
by Pat Ferrier
The Coloradoan

More than 1 million tourists visit Fort Collins every year. The Fort Collins Convention & Visitors Bureau wants to make sure they have a good experience while they're here.

That means being able to find their way around and being greeted by friendly hotel clerks who know a little about the city's history, culture and events. Or by rafting guides knowledgeable about the flora and fauna along the Poudre River. Or by retailers who go out of their way to make shoppers feel welcome. And even by police who might provide directions.

That's why the Fort Collins CVB plans to train those inside and out of the hospitality business on how to make sure visitors have a good experience and a reason to return.

"We have a product here that is well marketed by word of mouth," said Jim Clark, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Convention & Visitors Bureau. "That gives us the opportunity to reach out to a larger audience with something more substantial than a single training program."

Fort Collins will be the first Colorado city to adopt a certified tourism ambassador program, Clark said.

"We pride ourselves on innovation, and we wanted to do something that is special," he said. "We really feel it's going to help us enhance the visitor experience."

The national program developed by Mickey Schaefer and the Tourism Ambassador Institute will begin its first training session in the fall, with the goal of having 200 trained tourism ambassadors by the end of the year.

Schaefer, who will headline Wednesday's CVB luncheon to celebrate National Tourism Week, will also conduct the first focus groups for a cross-section of people who deal with tourists in some capacity.

Schaefer's team will spend several months developing curriculum for Fort Collins' program that will include information on the city's history and culture, outdoor life, sports, economic drivers, Colorado State University and "anything else a visitor asks about," she said in a telephone interview.

"This program brings together city governance, safety, signage, downtowns, hospitals, Realtors, economic developers. We align all of them to impact the total visitor experience from the time they drive in to the time they leave."

The program is now in 17 states and has trained 11,000 certified tourism ambassadors, Schaefer said. More than 80 percent of ambassadors surveyed have said "they have more pride and passion" about their city.

The program's measure of success will be largely anecdotal, based on participation and feedback, Clark said. "Every destination that has done it has said it was very well received."

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