Experience Grand Rapids new program seeks to reach out to visitors

File photo.
File photo.

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan, has annual attention from ArtPrize and has been crowned “Beer City USA” of 2013. These achievements bring more visitors and tourists.

Experience Grand Rapids (ExperienceGR), a program from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, strives to help those visitors have good experiences. Recently, ExperienceGR has decided to bring in a national hospitality program called Certified Tourism Ambassadors (CTA).

Lisa Verhil, visitor services manager of ExperienceGR and head of the CTA program, said the process began a year ago when ExperienceGR and the West Michigan Lodging Association wanted the program to be ready for ArtPrize 2013.

According to the CTA enrollment application, the program’s purpose is to increase tourism in Grand Rapids by providing visitors with positive experiences. Verhil supports this purpose.

“We wanted our visitors to receive a first class experience with the people they encountered,” Verhil said.

Verhil is optimistic about the program and believes it has been effective so far.

“Even people who thought they knew about Grand Rapids have learned things,” she said. “Every CTA is challenged to assist at least one person who looks like they need assistance every day.”

Verhil said the Grand Rapids CTA website has features to keep employees aware of events and interesting facts about Grand Rapids.

“We all continue to [learn] with the ‘Hidden Gems’ that I update on our website for the CTAs,” she said.

The CTA is part of the Grand Valley State University Hospitality 101 program. Several local restaurants, hotels, cab companies and businesses have decided to give their employees CTA training, Verhil said.

According to the ExperienceGR CTA brochure, anyone can apply.  Participants must attend the classes provided, complete assignments and pass a final exam. There is a $35 application fee and a $10 annual renewal fee.

Verhil said the program is also a great opportunity for those entering the hospitality field and has benefits for the employee. Those who complete the program receive a credential and are allowed to use the CTA initials behind their name.

The application brochure notes the significance of this program: “What separates Grand Rapids Tourism Ambassador from other training programs is that it’s certification, not just training.”

Verhil said there will have been 604 certified CTA members in Grand Rapids by the end of the year. She also said the feedback from Grand Rapids officials and the community is promising.

“It has turned into a ‘club’ with even the county commissioners and city police officers committed to the program!” Verhil said.

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