‘I Am Macon’: CVB workshop aims to convert locals into Macon ambassadors

hgoodridge@macon.comMarch 22, 2013 

Allan Collver is no stranger to Macon.

But most of what he knows about the city is from his rearview mirror while driving down Interstate 16 in a tractor-trailer. He’s done that for decades, making pick-ups at a local chemical factory before returning to his home in Ontario, Canada.

“When you’re driving a big rig you never stop,” Collver said on a recent Wednesday while standing in the lobby of the downtown Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Collver is retired now and has time to stop, something he’s wanted to do for years. He was at the CVB with his friend, Elaine Godfrey, getting a map so they can see some of the things he’s heard so much about in Macon.

“We’re staying in New Orleans ... and the lady I’m with said the Allman Brothers museum is here and all the old houses,” he said. “We’ll enjoy, especially the Civil War houses.”

When Collver and Godfrey left the CVB, they likely came in contact with a host of Macon folks; walking past residents on the street, perhaps a server at a local restaurant, or a worker at a museum, or even a gas station attendant.

These seemingly innocuous interactions are at the heart of the CVB’s new “I Am Macon” program, a workshop to turn people who live or work here into “tourism ambassadors.”

The free three-hour workshop and bus tour hits on all of the area’s attractions and facts about Macon.

Steven Fulbright, manager of the downtown CVB visitors center, said the idea for the one-day class was the result of a recent study given to Macon tourists. Most of the area’s tourists come here for conventions. In fiscal 2012, Macon hosted 110 convention groups resulting in 15,883 hotel room nights.

Those surveyed were asked what kinds of expectations they had before coming to Macon.

“People say they’re looking for extreme, exceptional service because they expect Southern hospitality,” Fulbright said.

While that expectation -- which many tourist destinations do not have -- is nearly impossible to live up to, Macon could do a better job at it, the survey found.

“They think everyone is a big, bubbly personality like Paula Deen,” Fulbright said. “What we can do is make sure we’re delivering on the expectations we’re providing good customer service.”

When a Macon visitor receives bad service or even average service, Fulbright said the ramifications are costly.

“If you’re not (providing exceptional service) they won’t come back,” he said. “And worse, they’ll tell others ‘don’t go there.’ ”

That translates into money, Fulbright said.

In 2011, a little more than $300 million was generated in Macon from tourism spending -- $8.54 million of which went to local tax coffers, according to the United States Tourism Association.

Conversely, word of good service and experiences also can spread.

“If they have a good experience, they’ll also tell others,” Fulbright said.

During the past few months, the CVB has hosted seven “I Am Macon” workshops, giving 187 participants a certificate proclaiming each of them a “Macon Tourism Ambassador.”

Participants came from Macon restaurants, hotels, museums, attractions and organizations, such as the Ocmulgee National Monument, NewTown Macon, College Hill Corridor, the Knight Foundation, and local nonprofit groups. Some employees even came from the Bibb County Courthouse.

“If you live in Macon or work in Macon, you can be an ambassador,” Fulbright said.

Lauren Fox, restaurant manager at the Macon Marriott City Center, went through the workshop recently.

“I really liked it,” she said. “I liked the tour.”

Fox said the bus tour around downtown and surrounding areas helped her learn more about Macon.

“I’m from Atlanta, and I just moved to Macon in August,” she said. “We do have a lot of people who come in asking ‘what are the cool things to do in Macon?’ You don’t realize how much there is to do until you talk to someone who is knowledgeable.”

Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, also took the class.

“It enables (participants) to talk about Macon in a positive way and a knowledgeable way ... not just downtown, but all of central Georgia,” he said.

Ford said people often walk into NewTown’s office downtown asking about Macon, “especially during the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it’s important we remain knowledgeable.”

For more information about the “I Am Macon” program, go to www.iammacon.com.

To contact writer Harold Goodridge, call 744-4382.

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