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Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership Musters Army Of Tourism Ambassadors In Preparation For The Sesquicentennial Of War
With the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War expected to attract millions of visitors to the region, many are wondering how area tourism businesses can capitalize on this opportunity. But not the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. They are working with their partners to launch a new certified hospitality-training program to help local businesses within the JTHG National Heritage Area reap the financial rewards from the flood of expected visitors, and this month will kick off a new, groundbreaking Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program.

In conjunction with convention and visitor bureaus and destination management organizations throughout the 180-mile JTHG National Heritage Area running from Gettysburg to Monticello, the JTHG Certified Tourism Ambassador program will train thousands of staff who interact with visitors regularly, to elevate the visitor experience into one that encourages them to stay longer, experience more of the JTHG National Heritage Area, share their positive experiences with others, and come for return visits.

“The Sesquicentennial of the Civil War has the potential to jumpstart the local economy, much like the Olympics or the Super Bowl coming to town,” said Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership and former Secretary of Commerce and Trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Tourism is the number-one industry throughout the JTHG National Heritage Area, affecting one in every seven jobs in some partnering jurisdictions. We have a chance to make every visitor feel so welcome, so connected to our nation’s history, that they’ll come for the Civil War and leave with a burning sense to return for a hundred other reasons.”

The JTHG Partnership has conducted national research to examine the potential impact of the Sesquicentennial Commemorations of the American Civil War and found that the number of tourists visiting the JTHG National Heritage area during the Civil War 150th could double beyond the normal count. The JTHG National Heritage Area serves as host to the largest collection of Civil War battlefield sites in the country in addition to being home to nine U.S. Presidential homes, 17 historic Main Street communities, 13 national park units, 73 national historic districts, hundreds of African-American and Native American historical sites, sites from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

“Strong customer service is the number one tool to help visitors spend more time and money in any destination,” said Alisa Bailey, president of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “Knowledgeable and trained personnel can help transform a visit into an extraordinary experience that visitors will never forget.” Tourism in Virginia, for example, is one of Virginia’s largest industries, generating $19.2 billion in revenue and supporting 210,620 jobs in recessionary 2008, according to a recent study published by the Virginia Tourism Corporation. In the 10 Virginia counties within the JTHG National Heritage Area, tourism generated more than $2.93 billion in revenue. In the three Maryland counties along the JTHG National Heritage Area, tourism generated more than $675 million and another $345 million for Adams County, PA in 2007.

The JTHG Partnership has worked with a nationally recognized group, Mickey Schaeffer and Associates, to develop and customize this hospitality training program to help local businesses in this national heritage area maximize the potential of every visitor experience. More than 4,000 hospitality personnel over the next two years will become official JTHG tourism ambassadors, creating a legion of local ambassadors capable of making tourist visits more rewarding. “The Journey Partnership is elevating visitor experiences into something to write home about,” said Norris Flowers, president of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s no secret that when you enjoy your visit, there is a tendency to spend more, stay longer, and tell your friends about it,” Flowers explained. “With tourism the biggest employer in the JTHG National Heritage Area, the CTA program makes enormous business sense, especially since the training program is a proven product.”

The program has been implemented across the country in cities like Phoenix, Anaheim, and Baltimore. In those cities, like the JTHG Partnership version, the program was created to provide training to anyone who has regular interaction with the public: front-desk staff at hotels, waiters and bartenders, museum docents, tour guides, airport staff, and so on. In Phoenix, which was done in preparation for the 2008 Super Bowl, police forces from neighboring jurisdictions trained alongside the City of Phoenix police department and stadium personnel.

The heart of the program is a half-day interactive class, supported by extensive reading material. Classes are taught by JTHG Partnership staff and subsequently fellow CTA Certified Trainers. This ‘train-the-trainer’ element is a critical component to a self-sustaining program – one that is relevant and represents a current reflection of the communities within the JTHG National Heritage Area. Once frontline personnel successfully complete the specialized, four-hour training course, they are designated a “Certified Tourism Ambassador.” To ensure quality control, this nationally recognized designation is subject to annual renewal, earned by visiting JTHG National Heritage Area attractions, touring local museums, attending CTA networking events, and patronizing local businesses, turning each CTA into an ambassador of the regional as well as a patron.

“Involving hospitality staff on multiple levels is a terrific component to the program,” said Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO of the Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association. “They become knowledgeable ambassadors first, encouraging visitors to see other sites. Then, the CTAs are given the chance to grow to a level where they themselves can become CTA trainers – a nice skill to showcase on their resume. And finally, through the process, the CTA’s themselves become yet another wave of visitors experiencing the sites.”

CTA’s are encouraged and given incentive to experience the rest of the heritage area firsthand. With access to an exclusive online database and network, the JTHG CTAs can get discounts to businesses along the Journey to personally see and experience partnering sites so they can recommend them from their personal experience. The JTHG Partnership sought and secured $500,000 to underwrite this program, nearly half of which came from a grant from Preserve America. That in turn was matched by contributions from Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Tourism Council of Frederick County, and Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. All leading to a reduced cost for the training which is $49 per-person.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising national and local awareness of the unparalleled history in the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, which generally follows the Old Carolina Road (Rt. 15/20/231) from Gettysburg, through Maryland, to Monticello in Albemarle County, VA. For more information, go to: www.HallowedGround.org
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