Jan. 11, 2013
-- Gainesville, FL
-- How knowledgeable are workers in your community about tourism? On Wednesday, October 10th, the Columbia County Tourist Development Council hosted Dr. Lori Pennington-Gray from the University of Florida to conduct a customer service workshop as part of the newly created Specialized Tourism Ambassador Program or STAP, for short. Pennington-
Gray is the Director of the Tourism Crisis Management Institute, Associate Director of the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Tourism, Recreation & Sport Management at UF. The two half-day workshops, held in Lake City, were open to employees in the hospitality industry, essentially any employees who have contact with customers.
Pennington-Gray was interested in getting this short certificate program off the ground because it already exists internationally and she emphasized the need to convert findings from academic research into applied knowledge. She feels that creating tourism ambassadors is extremely important because Florida is very advanced for the tourism industry, as it is the number one industry in the state. Pennington-
Gray indicated that all employees may not have a direct link to tourism, but most do indirectly. For example, taxi drivers, waiters/waitresses, gas station attendants and the like may all interact with visitors, but do they have some sort of training to be an informed ambassador for tourism?
During the STAP training workshop, constituents learn about such things as the importance of tourism, the competition among regions and states for tourism dollars, increasing guest satisfaction and improving tourism product knowledge. After completing the workshop, participants receive a certificate stating that they completed the training. The initial workshop had about 25 employees per session (each about 3 hours) where a lot of information was presented through videos, case studies, discussion, and collaboration. Pennington-
Gray stressed the need to “start the dialogue” among those in the industry and to get all of the appropriate networks between the private and public sectors in place. This ties into her tourism crisis research because if a crisis were to occur (e.g. terrorism, natural disaster, etc.), the appropriate networks and relationships would already be established for the host community to adequately come together as a whole.
Three more STAP workshops are already scheduled for the Spring of 2013 in Levy County and it looks like more will be held in Columbia County as well. Paulette Lord, Marketing Director for Columbia County Tourist Development, said, “Lori gave a great presentation and it really got the conversation started on tourism, customer service and the fact that everyone in our community is an ambassador for tourism. We have had calls from many who want to know when is the next workshop - which we will be planning soon.”
The Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute is committed to building a bridge between the tourism industry, organizations, destinations, and higher education through excellence in interdisciplinary research that provides strategic information focused on a wide array of travel, tourism and hospitality opportunities.
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Dr. Michael Sagas (Department Chair) at firstname.lastname@example.org (352.294.1640)
or Stephanie Thorn (Marketing and Public Relations) at stephaniethorn1@