New program teaches Columbia how to roll out the welcome mat

Monday, February 4, 2013 | 6:16 p.m. CST; updated 6:21 p.m. CST, Monday, February 4, 2013

COLUMBIA — Columbia residents can learn how to show tourists a good time in town through a new program.

Registration for a tourism ambassador program will open Thursday through the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“You have a lot of new visitors coming in to the city because you’re in the SEC now,” said Mickey Schaefer, founder and president of the Tourism Ambassador Institute, located in Arizona.

The program launches in March and will give participants the chance to learn more about the history of Columbia as well as the opportunity to get an idea of everything the city has to offer. The training consists of four four-hour classes.

The classes will be broken down into four educational modules: the power of tourism, the history of Columbia, what to do in Columbia and customer service.

The classes are part of the Certified Tourism Ambassadors program, or CTA. The certification program is available in 17 states. Its first branch opened in Kansas City in 2006.

“It is a program that educates folks on tourism and the impact tourism has,” said Amy Schneider, director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The program has been very successful, according to both Schneider and Schaefer, based on the number of certified tourism ambassadors trained for each city, number of businesses enrolled and retention rate of enrolled businesses.

The program has seen its best performance in Anaheim, Calif., where it boasts a 94 percent renewal rate in business participation. The average retention rate hovers around 52 percent.

Schneider said that the classes can benefit people in a wide variety of businesses and those on the “front line” of tourism have a lot to gain by enrolling.

“It gives you knowledge, and it gives you confidence to help visitors find what they’re looking for,” Schneider said.

The enrollment fee is $25, and there is a $15 renewal fee each year. Schneider thinks the money would be well spent.

“If someone comes and they get a good impression, they’re going to return,” she said. “That always helps.”

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