NORMAN — When I arrived in Norman for my job interview more than four years ago, I stopped in a convenience store to freshen up and while I was in there, I asked the gal behind the counter if there was anything to do in Norman.
“I’ve been asking that for 24 years!”
I stopped in another convenience store on the way out of town. Same question.
Research months after I took the position (despite those rousing welcomes) revealed half of the visitors to Norman were leaving not believing the city to be a friendly community. That’s when we began working with the Oklahoma City and Edmond CVBs to present the Certified Tourism Ambassador program to Norman and the metropolitan area. The program seeks to ensure that visitors to an area will have a positive customer experience.
This national program trains and certifies people who work in front-line industries the skills to enhance a visitor experience to increase tourism, from hotel employees to convenience-store clerks to taxi drivers and museum guides. The CTA Program goes well beyond basic customer service training; it gives participants the opportunity to build upon their knowledge of the local region, enhance their skills in serving customers, increase their awareness of information resources and discover the power of tourism. Tourism after all is the second largest industry in Oklahoma generating $6.2 billion and employing 1 of every 9 Oklahomans.
The CTA training is available for all hospitality employees as well as retailers, restaurateurs, transportation drivers, convenience store employees and other front liners. Heck, if you believe you are going to have any contact with a visitor, consider the certification. Notice a family looking over brochures in a restaurant? You could offer assistance. See a couple parking a car with out-of-state tags? Welcome them and suggest something to do. Spot opposing football fans in their teams’ apparel? Smile and ask if they need guidance. For more information on the training and certification program, visit www.ctanetwork.com.
I am really excited that this past week, our office became a staff full of CTAs as we all completed the training. We look forward to your joining the ranks. You will learn you don’t have to search for 24 years to find something fun to do in Norman. And you can help a visitor find the fun, too.
Stephen Koranda, CTA, is the executive director of the Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau.