Mississippi transplant is Stockton’s lead ambassador

Posted 05/21/2014
Central Valley Business Journal

STOCKTON - Joshua Mangum is a relative newcomer to Stockton, but few people sell the city better than he does.

"I interact with guests from all over the world every single day, anywhere from 50 to 250 people from all walks of life and in all different businesses," said Mangum, who is the front desk manager at the Hilton Stockton. "There's so much to do in Stockton. Now I can just direct you to it, especially the food ‘cause I'm a real food guy, coming from the south. We always like to feed you."

Mangum learned a lot about what Stockton has to offer when he enrolled in the Convention and Visitors Bureau's inaugural Certified Tourism Ambassador program last year. He was so successful, he was named Ambassador of the Year at Visit Stockton's Tourism Awards luncheon April 2.

Mangum moved to Stockton three years ago from Jackson, Mississippi. His wife is from here, but other than that, he didn't know much about the city.

"I really didn't think there was much to do here, honestly. Everybody was welcoming; I just didn't get a feel for the attractions. When I got here there was just the University of the Pacific, where my wife went to school. Everything I knew about the city was around the Miracle Mile area," he said. Eventually, being an avid golfer, he discovered the city's golf courses. But it took becoming a certified tourism ambassador for him to fully appreciate Stockton's history and all it has to offer.

Mangum learned, for instance, that Stockton was among the largest cities in the state during the gold rush, having the furthest inland port. The program opened his eyes to Stockton's cultural diversity and the wide range of activities available. Now he has so much more to share with visitors.

The Stockton Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Stockton) launched the program locally a year ago. To date, 108 residents have earned their CTAs. Stockton is one of three localities in the state to participate, the others being Sonoma County and Anaheim. Across the nation, more than 10,000 individuals have been certified. CTAs are encouraged to renew annually to stay abreast of changes to their local environments and stay in touch with their network of CTAs.

"This is destination training very specific to Stockton, in addition to core subjects such as the power of customer service," Visit Stockton CEO Wes Rhea said. "It includes a thick document to read before the class on local history, attractions, and getting around town. The program involves engaging with the class, itinerary building, and problem solving. It's also a great networking opportunity."

"We measure program success by the feedback we get from the CTAs about their ability to feel empowered to present Stockton to visitors," Rhea added. "We get a lot of referrals from our CTAs. Employers are calling us to say they want their team to go through the program."

Ultimately, he noted, the program's influence will be reflected in what visitors post on social media.

Mangum renewed his certification on April 2 and has high praise for the five-member team at Visit Stockton.

"They're such a wonderful group of people to work with, so on top of it. Any information we need, it's almost immediate. They're doing a really good job there."

The CTA class grew from about 30 in its first year to 188 this year.

"They had everybody from legislators to pedicab drivers, dry cleaning owners, business owners, a lot of hotel managers, pretty much anything you can think of, real diverse," Mangum said.

"It's a way to enhance the knowledge of citizens to uplift the city. Stockton hasn't been known for being the best of cities. We are here to change that reputation, to help people realize it's a safe place to come to with great places to stay. People come with a mindset of ‘I've heard a lot of things about Stockton,' and immediately change their perspective when we tell them we have this, we have that. They say, ‘I had no idea!' "

Classes are bi-monthly, and the class that began on April 30 was at full capacity. Rhea indicated that industry-specific classes are a possibility, such as a class for realtors or docents.

CTAs who renew their certification earn points for attending local events and staying engaged. The program sends out a bimonthly newsletter and builds in experiences such as visits to the Haggin Museum, the Stockton Arena, the Stockton Oktoberfest, and preview nights at a play.

"It's about building this family of tourism ambassadors, not just having letters after your name," Rhea said. "It's about staying updated. It's a learning process, being a CTA."

Anyone interested in signing up for the $25 four-hour class can visit www.visitstockton.org/stockton-certified-tourism-ambassador-program or call (877) 778-6258 for more information

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