City wants to fluff up the welcome mat

Posted 07/01/2011
July 1, 2011, Rochester, MN
By Ken Hanson

It's well-known that Mayo Clinic works hard to create a welcoming atmosphere.

What's been lagging, Rochester officials say, is sufficient training for "front-line workers" - hotel employees, restaurant servers, taxi drivers - to be able to create an equally welcoming atmosphere, by providing reference information about local tourist destinations and recreational options.

"We realized we needed a more active front-line training mechanism," said Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau.

So last year, representatives from Mayo Clinic, the Rochester Conventions and Visitors Bureau and other organizations involved with the hospitality industry connected with Mickey Schaefer and Associates and its branch, the Tourism Ambassador Institute.

Tailor-made training

The institute tailors training programs to communities so that front-line workers can gain certification as Certified Tourism Ambassadors. The local program is named the Rochester Destination Medical Community Ambassador Program.

The Tourism Ambassador Institute worked with Rochester officials, including Keeley Hruska, information and marketing coordinator for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, for about eight months in developing an eight-hour training session for workers.

The training sessions are held over two days and consist of a tour of the city, a classroom session and some outside reading.

The sessions started in mid-May and will be held roughly once a week on an ongoing basis. About 250 people will be certified by mid-July, with a goal of 1,000 by April 2012, Hruska said.

Thus far, about half the trainees have been Mayo Clinic employees, including patient-appointment coordinators, orderlies and volunteers.

What's in it for workers?

For workers, the certification can lead to higher tips from customers and advancement in their careers. As employers become more familiar with the certification, it will become useful on a worker's resume, particularly in the high-turnover hospitality industry, Jones said.

Certified workers are given a gold pin identifying them a a Certified Tourism Ambassador, and a goal of the program is to cue visitors to "Look for the Pin."

Visitors travel to Rochester for a number of reasons, but by far the most common is to go to Mayo Clinic. But most of a visitor's time is spent outside Mayo's walls.

"We - meaning the city - have them 70 percent of the time," Jones said.