Tourism ambassadors help sell Lansing

Posted 04/15/2015
by Vickki Dozier
Lansing State Journal

In 2010, the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a program dedicated to improving hospitality in the region.

The Greater Lansing Certified Tourism Ambassador program certifies people who work in hotels, restaurants and other front-line jobs. Ambassadors have in-depth knowledge of the area's assets to help create a more memorable experience for visitors.

"We currently have 479 CTAs that have gone through the program," Julie Pingston, senior vice president and COO of the GLCVB said. "For the past five years this has been a pretty consistent number for us each year. You have to renew your certification every year."

A total of 952 people have gone through the program since its inception. Pingston said many students become CTAs in Lansing, but don't renew after they leave the area. And industry people come and go within the community. About 450 people stay with the program every year.

The cost for a half-day course and open book exam to become a Certified Tourism Ambassador is $20. The designation comes with a gold lapel pin and pride in the region.

"We have full classes every month," Pingston said.

We talked with three of the four Certified Tourism Ambassadors of the Year about the CTA class, what they learned and how the CTA training has helped them in their current positions.

Zach Smith was the 2011 Certified Tourism Ambassador of the Year. He was followed by Jason Fawaz in 2012, Brian Dornton in 2013 and Skyin Yin in 2014.

Skyin Yin

2014 Ambassador of the Year

What made you take the CTA course?

Introducing great places to go and sharing the experience with others has always been my passion. I love traveling and exploring good restaurants in particular! When I first heard about the program, it caught my attention, and I signed up right away.

What was the most important thing you took away from the course?

Besides the useful information I learned about Lansing's history, fun facts, etc., more important and valuable to me are the connections I made during the course. Most participants signed up by themselves, and they are from all backgrounds and fields. That made me feel like all the CTAs are truly passionate about Lansing, about serving and helping others get to know more about the area. I found them to share values and interests with me.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

I really enjoyed the conversation I had with all the other participants about their jobs, background, experience and especially sharing why they wanted to become a CTA and what their must-go-to places in the area are.

What are you doing currently?

I am working as an international student adviser and the communications and experiential learning coordinator at the Office for International Students and Scholars at Michigan State University.

How has your CTA training helped you in your current position?

The CTA program has helped me become an ambassador of Lansing among international students at MSU in terms of reaching students and designing learning programs.

I have the certification and course booklet in my office, and my CTA title has generated more and more interest among international students to know about this program and Lansing in general.

The CTA program itself and the mixers have helped me to develop a network of people in Lansing who are working on various projects (volunteering, service learning, internships, etc.) that will be valuable for international students to participate in. These Lansing enthusiasts have inspired me on experiential learning programming and promotion ideas.

Jason Fawaz

2012 Ambassador of the Year

Why did you decide to take the CTA course?

I saw the CTA program as an excellent opportunity to learn more about the city. I was the director of sales at a hotel in Lansing, near MSU, and I had to be able to talk up the city when I was talking to my clients. Being able to talk about Lansing/East Lansing's history and attractions made it a lot easier to sell my hotel to prospective clients, especially leisure travelers.

What was the most important thing you took away from the course?

We are all sales people. CTAs have the best opportunity to sell Lansing as a destination. We are the ones talking to visitors on a day-to-day basis. Also, to really sell your city, it's important to recommend new, unique places. A guest can eat (at a chain restaurant) literally anywhere else. It's not a unique experience. Instead, we would try to send our guests to great places they could only get here. Most important takeaway: Create custom, unique experiences for visitors.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

Learning. You never know what you're going to find in your own backyard. The MSU Dairy Store, for example, came up in the CTA training. That place quickly became a favorite spot after I would visit my MSU clients. I always looked forward to their grilled cheese and tomato soup. Our hotel team referred many guests to the Dairy Store, especially those visiting the campus. This is a perfect example of how the CTA program can stimulate the economy.

What are you doing currently?

I am the corporate director of revenue for Hawkeye Hotels, a hotel management company based out of Iowa City, Iowa. We represent all major hotel chains including Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Best Western, Starwood, Choice, and La Quinta, as well as a few independent properties. My role is to ensure that our entire portfolio, about 50 hotels, is growing revenue market share.

How has your CTA training helped you in your current position?

The CTA program helped me excel in my position as the director of sales for the Lansing Quality Inn, which in turn, led me to a director of sales position in Chicago. The skills I learned from the Lansing CTA program were easily transferable to that hotel. My success there led to multiple promotions and as of today I serve as the corporate director of revenue strategy for Hawkeye Hotels. I attribute part of this success to the skills I learned in the CTA program.

Zach Smith

2011 Ambassador of the Year

Why did you decide to take the CTA course?

I was really excited when I heard about CTA; it came highly recommended by respected hospitality professionals. It was new to our area, and it seemed right up my alley: a program specifically for folks working to promote tourism in cities just like ours. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I went for it!

What was the most important thing you took away from the course?

The most important thing that I took away was that no matter how long you live somewhere, there is always something new to discover. There are good resources to find them, like the Greater Lansing Visitor Guide or City Pulse magazine, and, as required by CTA in order to maintain our designation, it's good to go somewhere you've never been (or haven't been in a while) because you never know what you may find. If it enhances your ability to provide good customer service, so much the better!

What did you enjoy most about the course?

The best part for me was the opportunity to meet other people who are using a variety of means to achieve the same end: promoting tourism here in Greater Lansing. People came from not only the hospitality world, but private business and local government. I enjoyed gaining new knowledge (and sharing my own). It was good to brush up on customer service skills as well.

What are you doing currently?

I currently work at Michigan State University's Division of Residential and Hospitality Services. A good deal of my time is spent connecting visitors to East Lansing with great ways to enjoy their time in our community!

How has your CTA training helped you in your current position?

CTA provides great opportunities to learn not only about the many attractions in the area but to learn new customer service skills. It's great to network with others who do what we love to do, to help others "fall in love with Lansing"!

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