The Rapidian

Exploring Grand Rapids

Experience Grand Rapids seeks Tourism Ambassadors to help visitors and locals explore Grand Rapids
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Check out the CTA Brochure here.

/Tiffany Szakal

Friendly faces, quick directions, a brief history lesson and food recommendations are walking around downtown Grand Rapids these days. Uniformed Certified Tourism Ambassadors (CTAs) are stationed to help visitors and locals alike explore GR.

Apparently for good reason; it seems tourism is big business. One in seven jobs nationally is supported by the tourism industry. Locally, phenomena like ArtPrize, craft brewing and numerous marathons have brought in visitors contributing over $1.5 Billion to tourism related purchases in Kent County during 2013, according to Experience Grand Rapids’ Janet Korn.

“The CTA Program offers people insight into what there is to see and do here, how to help people find interesting things to do, and to really encourage them to be visitors in their own city,” says Korn.

So who exactly are these CTAs? They are the frontline tourism employees such as hotel and airport staff. They are dedicated volunteers at destinations like Frederic Meijer Gardens and ArtPrize. They are also made up of everyday people who enjoy exploring their city and want to enrich the visitor experience of those around them.

Whether they are taking a question or pointing out directions, CTAs are out and about. Melvin Eledge is part of Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.’s Safety Ambassador Program as well as being a trained CTA. He was pounding the pavement on a Thursday afternoon outside of the GRAM. After making some jokes about not needing to exercise because the amount of walking he did, he admitted what he really enjoys about being a CTA is watching the city change with the seasons. Because he is immersed in the visitor experience he also gets to celebrate each season’s highlights. Melvin is not alone. On that same Thursday afternoon there were three other CTAs within a five block radius.

Grand Rapids has nearly 1,400 Certified Tourism Ambassadors, which may seem high- but the city’s tourism industry is poised to grow. The last five years has seen over 50% tourism growth and the next five years is trending up. Preparing now will help alleviate the needs of increased tourism in the coming years.

Those interested in the CTA program should know it has a reading requirement, nominal fee and a half-day training commitment. What the participant gets in return is an advanced knowledge of the city, special designation as a CTA and the opportunity to interface with a wide variety of people all while exploring GR.

Grand Rapids is growing and so is the knowledge of it. This program helps highlight the city’s best features and hopefully prevent a few bad experiences with a little bit of personal interaction.

“That’s really what the goal of the program is," says Korn. "To make every visitor’s experience better than it would have been if they hadn’t intersected with that person."

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