Certified Tourism Ambassador program takes aim at dollars
The visitor experience in Blount County is about to reach another level. That’s the idea, anyway. That’s why the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority is set to have the first Certified Tourism Development Program in Tennessee.
Tourism is big business. In 2011 expenditures on travel in Tennessee totaled $14.9 billion — up 8.5 percent from 2010, according to the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development.
The money is generated by visitors traveling away from home overnight in paid accommodations or on day or overnight trips to places 50 miles or more away from home.
Blount County travel expenditures in 2011 were $305 million, a total that ranked eighth among Tennessee counties. The leading counties were Davidson, Shelby, Sevier, Hamilton, Knox, Williamson and Sullivan.
More than 8,000 frontline tourism workers and volunteers nationwide have earned the CTA designation. The CTA philosophy is to treat visitors not just as travelers but as customers.
The CTA Network puts it this way: In this increasingly competitive environment, everyone is chasing the tourism dollar. Companies are working hard to stay viable. Workers are concerned about keeping their jobs. Destinations are competing with one another for a share of the tourism and convention market.
Bottom line: Destinations spend lots of money courting leisure and convention travelers. But no amount of money will make up for the visitor having a bad experience that negatively impacts the destination’s brand and overall image.
The process of establishing and maintaining the ambassador program is sixfold:
• Research and training through focus groups and surveys of management and frontline tourism employees and volunteers;
• Defining the body of knowledge and customizing program development by taking into account history, culture, attractions, resource guide and other factors;
• Field testing;
• Training the trainers;
• Program launch;
• Ongoing program management through database software and the CTA website.
Among the users of the CTA program are Anaheim/Orange County, Calif.; Baltimore; Dallas/Fort Worth; Kansas City; Lexington, Ky.; San Antonio and regions such as Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a partnership that extends from Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello, Va.
The Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority expects to be ready to launch CTA in October.
The expectation is for the program to raise Blount County’s already high level of hospitality. The goal is for every visitor to have a positive experience. The hope is for increased dollars from tourism.