Tourism program teaches local people how to enhance visitors' experience in Kalamazoo

Posted 11/01/2010
by Beth Kailukaitis

KALAMAZOO - In the effort to educate and inspire front-line hospitality employees and volunteers to better serve tourists and visitors, Discover Kalamazoo has implemented the Kalamazoo Tourism Ambassador Program.

The four-hour interactive training program is designed to increase participants' knowledge of the region, teach them best practices in customer service and help them deepen their connection with the Kalamazoo community. The goal is to enhance visitors' experiences of Kalamazoo and grow tourism, those involved say.

"We hope to build a network of people who are passionate about providing service and have a commitment to tourism," said Renee Newman, program manager for Discover Kalamazoo, the marketing and promotional organization for Kalamazoo County.

Elizabeth Barker, group reservation coordinator for Kalamazoo Valley Museum and a graduate of the program, said, "The Kalamazoo Tourism Ambassador Program is all about working as a community to promote the community."

The program teaches participants their role in increasing tourism and explains how they can better interact with visitors. Workers expand their knowledge of the region and learn answers to common visitors' questions. Participants also get to meet one another and learn from others' experiences.Graduates of the local program, which included 24 people last month, earn a Certified Tourism Credential (CTA), which they may use to denote a commitment to their profession. CTA is a national designation, with certification programs currently offered in 14 other communities.

"We want businesses and residents of Kalamazoo to feel like they are a part of something big," Newman said.

What's the payoff?

"If our hospitality community embraces this program, we feel there will be a good payoff," she said.

Dean Hauck, owner of Michigan News Agency, said, "I feel that all people involved with downtown Kalamazoo need to go participate in the program so we can learn about each other and connect with others in Kalamazoo."

Hauck served on the Subject Matter Expert Panel with Discover Kalamazoo to help customize what has been a national program for use in Kalamazoo. She also recently received her CTA.

"It's all about working as a community to promote the community," she said.

Newman is hopeful that the program will pay off here the way similar programs have in such places as Tuscon, Ariz., where The Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau launched the Tucson Ambassadors Program in May of 2007. The hotel occupancy rate there, where tourism annually adds about $3 billion to the local economy, grew from 53.6 percent on average in 2009 to 59.3 percent on average through June of this year.

Speaking of the business people and others who are already participating, Newman said, "There is a network involved, a very diverse group of people all connected to hospitality who are tuning into the city, who possess a strong knowledge base and are dedicated to continually improving their knowledge and learning all that they can about tourism."

Hauck said,  "I think the biggest payoff of participating in this training program for people is that we, as ambassadors, can bring to southwest Michigan and to the U.S., the awareness that Kalamazoo is a unique, marvelous, friendly and interesting place. We can become a part of this message, sharing positive and friendly information that will make people want to share Kalamazoo with their friends, and they will want to come back." More Information