“Ambassadors” for Tourism

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2015

October’s “One Minute Ambassadors” included county officials, businesspeople, and tourism leaders. (Photo submitted by Judy Heinrich)

October’s “One Minute Ambassadors” included county officials, businesspeople, and tourism leaders. (Photo submitted by Judy Heinrich)

An economic development expert I know describes tourism as “people coming to your town, shaking out their purses and wallets, and then going home.” Of course, for that to work long term, those people have to find things to do, have a great time, want to come back, and tell their friends.

There is no doubt that the Carolina Foothills have a wealth of things to attract tourists, from the new Tryon International Equestrian Center and other equine activities; to our vineyards and wineries; art galleries, music and theater; history and museums; recreation like the Gorge and Green River; farmers markets and farm tours; hiking at FENCE, Pearson’s Falls and Green River Game Lands; and our unique towns with great local shops and restaurants.

But while most residents know about many of those things, visitors often do not. In fact, the most asked question from the thousands of TIEC visitors is, “What else is there to do while we’re here?”

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Providing the answer to that question is the focus of a new program at ICC-Polk called “One Minute Ambassador.” It was introduced by Suzanne Strickland and Mindy Wiener of Our Carolina Foothills, a 501c3 organization that promotes area businesses and attractions under the slogan, “Four towns, two states, one great experience.”

Wiener and Strickland learned of a “One Minute Ambassador” program created for Forest City by businesswoman Kitty McCammon. With her permission, they worked with Isothermal Community College to design a Foothills-focused version.

“One-Minute Ambassador” is now a two-hour information and training session offered at ICC-Polk. It’s designed to help build our tourism economy by teaching class participants how to help provide a great experience to visitors, and how to promote the many things visitors can do while they’re here… or when they come back.

There have now been two One-Minute Ambassador sessions, with participants from local government, retail, lodging and restaurants, attractions, and agricultural businesses. The next session will be held at ICC-Polk on Wednesday, Nov. 18; email mindy@ourcarolinafoothills.com to reserve a place.

The first half of the class has participants work in pairs to create a “one-minute speech” showcasing different aspects of our area and the many things there are to do. The purpose is to develop quick ways to answer that “what else is there to do” question. Some past speeches focused on the Tryon arts scene; recreation like The Gorge, Green River, hiking at FENCE and Pearson’s Falls; live music events in Tryon, Saluda, Mill Spring Ag Center; history and museums in Columbus; and antiques shopping and dining in Landrum.

The second half covers the  “soft skills” needed in a tourism economy, like attitude, greeting people, body language, listening, good communication skills and the ability to draw out information about a visitor’s interests. The famous and beloved video, “Give ‘Em The Pickle,” is the highlight of that section.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman participated in the October “One Minute Ambassador” session and says he found it valuable. “I’m a Polk County native and I learned things about our area that I didn’t already know. And the service aspect was very good. At the end of the day we all play a role in making people want to come back. The more we all support the tourism economy, the more we will get out of it. We all stand to win. It’s a very positive thing.”

Class participants Angela and Tryone Perry of Java Up Mobile Coffee Café are already using their “One Minute Ambassador” skills. “The speech exercise gave us more insight about what’s available to do here, plus how to first ask about a visitor’s interests so you can suggest things they’d like,” said Angela. “And the ‘Pickle’ video was great – we’ve taken a lot of service ideas from that and put them into our business already.”

“One Minute Ambassador” programs can also be scheduled for specific groups; for information on custom programs, call Beth Hartle at ICC-Polk, 828-395-4294.

– Submitted by Judy Heinrich