Certification Program for Destination Workforce to Enhance Visitor Experience

Tucson, AZ — The co-developer of a new certification program to raise the level of service by a destination's "front-line" hospitality workers intends to make the initiative a nationally recognized standard.

The Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program, co-developed by the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association and Tucson-based meetings consultancy Mickey Schaefer & Associates LLC, has been utilized in Kansas City since June. Schaefer & Associates owns the program's rights and plans to administer it for other destinations through a newly created division called the Tourism Ambassador Institute.

The program trains such workers as hotel desk employees, doormen, restaurant/bar servers, and cab drivers to interact with the city's tourists and meeting attendees. Upon completion of the program, which involves pre-class exercises, classroom training, and a 30-minute multiple-choice exam, certified ambassadors — who identify themselves to visitors with a lapel pin — are expected to make visitors feel welcomed and to knowledgeably answer questions about the city. They will undergo recertification annually to keep up with ongoing destination developments.

The logic behind the program is that if the front-line workforce provides a memorable level of service to visitors, those visitors are more likely both to return and to recommend the destination to others.

While several cities, including Atlanta and Pittsburgh, have held courtesy-training mini-courses for cabbies in the past, the CTA initiative appears to be the first attempt at a national hospitality-employee certification, analogous to what the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) is to meeting planners.

Some 300 members of Kansas City's hospitality workforce are expected to be certified as ambassadors, meaning they are experts in the city's attributes and attractions, by year end. The city has a goal of producing 1,000 CTAs for 2007.

Although the program has a core structure, curriculum, and set of knowledge objectives, president Mickey Schaefer said it will be customized. Schaefer is working with Tucson to develop its CTA program for a May 2007 rollout, and other cities — including Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati, and Memphis — have expressed interest.

"The cities want to use it to deliver their brand promise," said Schaefer. "The program aligns front-line workers with the city's brand focus, and it also aligns stakeholders like the chamber of commerce and CVB. About 20 bureaus are now aware of the program."