2015 International CTA of the Year Aims to Give Greater Columbus Visitors the Ultimate Experience

Posted 06/01/2015

Amy Huggins, CTA wants every visitor to leave with a smile and a great feeling.

Amy Huggins, a Certified Tourism AmbassadorTM (CTA), amy hugginswants to make the Greater Columbus (Ohio) Convention Center experience as memorable as Ritz Carlton or Disney.

For the quality services control manager, that means handling every situation-from spending days helping a frantic Spaniard get home after she lost her passport to answering the same guest questions all day-with grace and reassurance.

Her attitude toward visitors to Greater Columbus has earned her the 2015 international Certified Tourism Ambassador of the Year award.

Each year the Tourism Ambassador Institute®, which accredits tourism organizations to conduct the CTA program in their respective areas, chooses a top CTA from among local CTA of the Year winners.

"Amy is not only a dedicated CTA program ambassador, but has also facilitated and hosted 15 CTA classes," says John Marks, retired President and CEO of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau and the selection committee co-chair for the CTA of the Year. "Quite extraordinary."

CTAs are a combination of frontline and business leaders in the tourism industry who are specially trained to provide an excellent visitor experience in their city or region. They learn the importance of tourism to the economy and become well-versed in their area's history, culture, resources and visitor attractions through an extensive, customized curriculum.

"I want our customers to have the epitome of customer service, like a Ritz Carlton or Disney," says Huggins. "From the minute they pull in our parking garage, I want their whole experience to be amazing.

"If I see a smile on my client's face, I know we did well."

Huggins, who has a background in retail customer service and event planning, has worked for the Greater Columbus Convention Center since 2000. She is responsible for the convention center's concierges, the information booth and guest services, putting her in the thick of helping meeting and event attendees. She runs these services, answers questions as a frontline employee and measures how people perceive the convention center's services.

She became one of Columbus' first CTAs. Her enthusiasm for the program and her encouragement of others to participate have resulted in nearly the entire convention center staff becoming CTAs. She helps them maintain their status by tracking their recertification activity herself.

Although not a Columbus, Ohio native, Huggins has enthusiastically embraced the city she has called home for 19 years. The CTA program lets her stay informed about the city. "I love to get the inside scoop on new things," she says.

"Amy understands the importance of creating an outstanding visitor experience, which is evident in everything she does in her role at the Greater Columbus Convention Center and as a CTA program facilitator," says Brian Ross, CTA, Experience Columbus President and CEO. His organization partners with the Greater Columbus Sports Commission to run the local CTA program.

"She sets the bar high, which elevates our entire Certified Tourism AmbassadorTM program," Ross says.

With 1,806 CTAs, the Greater Columbus CTA program is the TAI's largest, slightly higher than San Antonio at 1,699. "We rely on our CTAs to help ensure that the 37.6 million visitors who come to Greater Columbus each year have a wonderful time and want to come back," says Ross.

"We also want visitors to know that our entire community is working to enhance their total experience at every touch point by being the first destination to be accredited as an Experience Dedicated® Destination (EDD) by The EXPERIENCE Institute®. We truly care about the experience."


The Tourism Ambassador Institute® licenses and accredits local TAI Accredited Providers, often destination marketing organizations (DMO) such as convention and visitors bureaus, to offer the Certified Tourism AmbassadorTM (CTA) program at the local level.

The institute, founded by Mickey Schaefer, FASAE, CAE, CTA, president of Mickey Schaefer & Associates LLC, customizes the CTA program for each destination through research and collaboration with the TAI Accredited Provider and local stakeholders.

For her work on industry standards, Schaefer has been named four times among the "25 Most Influential in the Meetings Industry" by Successful Meetings magazine, "Top Six Industry Leaders" by Smart Meetings magazine and "2013 Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing" by HSMAI (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International).

To continue moving the industry forward, Schaefer recently launched The EXPERIENCE Institute® to help destinations shape and measure the total visitor experience against the industry's first-ever consumer-driven standards.

Since the CTA program's inception in 2006, over 27,000 individuals have been certified. Currently, more than 13,000 CTAs enhance the visitor experience in retail and restaurant businesses, lodging, government, community service, hospitals and other settings. Twenty-five CTA programs, including new ones in Lake County, California; Fort Collins, Colorado; Galveston and Greater Houston, Texas; Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti, Michigan; Cincinnati, Ohio, and Bermuda, exist in 15 U.S. states and one additional country and involve numerous DMOs.


Related Links

Certified Tourism AmbassadorTM program, https://www.ctanetwork.com/
Tourism Ambassador Institute®, http://www.tourismambassadorinstitute.com/
The Experience InstituteTM http://www.theexperienceinstitute.org/
Greater Columbus Certified Tourism Ambassador Program, http://www.joinuscolumbus.com/cta/