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Posted 09/09/2015

Volunteer at Charles Schultz Sonoma County Airport Puts CTA Program Over Milestone 15,000 CTAs

Growth Reflects Tourism Success by Enhancing the Visitor Experience™

The Certified Tourism Ambassador™ (CTA) program reached 15,000 active CTAs in August when that milestone ambassador was identified as a Sonoma County, California, airport volunteer.

Richard "Rick" Smith, who recently started volunteeringRick Smith at the information desk at the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport, found out he was the 15,000th active CTA the same day he was notified that he passed his exam to be certified.

CTAs are volunteers, front-line workers, executives, business owners and government officials who are local experts on their destination's attractions and other visitor amenities. They are specially trained to enhance the visitor experience and work together destination-wide to drive a positive brand experience.

Smith joins nearly 1,000 CTAs in the program run by Sonoma County Tourism, a destination marketing organization (DMO) for the Northern California region.

"Growth of our CTA program has been gratifying," says Mickey Schaefer, FASAE, CAE, CTA, who founded the Tourism Ambassador Institute® that is the oversight entity for the program. "DMOs throughout the U.S. and internationally are recognizing that helping visitors experience the destination's many assets significantly contributes to their region's economy."

Smith says he already knew a lot about the famed wineries in Sonoma County where he and his wife have been full-time residents since November. The indepth CTA training and reading revealed much more about early history, historical sites and cultural events. "I learned about things to do to keep visitors entertained," Smith says. "I thought the training was very well done."

The former business owner and volunteer coordinator appreciates the value of training. "Any knowledge and training is beneficial," Smith says. "I always like to know what I'm talking about or at least know how to find the information."

Answering questions of arriving travelers at the airport has been easy so far, Smith says, and now he feels well-equipped to handle anything because of the extensive training materials and alphabetized resource index to which CTAs can refer..

"We are absolutely delighted that the 15,000th CTA is from Sonoma County," says Sonoma County Tourism President and CEO Ken Fischang, CHME, CMP, CTA. "The CTA program has been especially effective in reaching out to all corners of our destination community by empowering and connecting our front-line hospitality staff and businesses so they can better serve our 8 million annual visitors."

Smith's recognition represents the destination marketing organization's strong effort to let the community know the importance of tourism, says Fischang.

"We totally support the CTA principles," he says, "and we look forward to a long and productive future with the Certified Tourism AmbassadorTM program."


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 Ambassador (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, Mickey has been inducted into the Convention Industry Council's Hall of Leaders and has been named among the "25 Most Influential in the Meetings Industry" by Successful Meetings magazine for the fifth time in 2015; among the "Top Six Industry Leaders" by Smart Meetings magazine; and among the "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® (TEI) to help destinations shape and measure the total visitor experience against the industry's first-ever consumer-driven standards developed through 2,000 hours of primary research.

Since the CTA program's inception in 2006, over 34,000 individuals have been certified. Currently, more than 15,000 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; Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti, Michigan; Cincinnati, Ohio, and Bermuda, exist in 15 U.S. states and one additional country and involve numerous DMOs.


Related Links

Sonoma County Tourism CTA program,
Certified Tourism Ambassador™ program,
Tourism Ambassador Institute®,
The Experience InstituteTM