Calhoun County

In Calhoun County training program teaches how to be an ambassador for local tourist spots

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.

Through a partnership between Kellogg Community College and the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau, students taking an introductory Sports Management course at the college will also become Certified Tourism Ambassadors. 

Earlier this month seven students in the Sports Management class taught by Eierí Jordán-Salivia, KCC Physical Education Coordinator, became the first to earn the Certified Tourism Ambassador designation. The ambassadorship has been offered since 2017 by the CCVB at a cost of $25 per person to anyone interested in becoming a local tourism ambassador.

Jordán-Salivia, originally from San Jan, Puerto Rico, says a big part of sports is tourism, and creating opportunities like this partnership will prepare his students for possible transfer to another school and for entry into the workforce where they will find jobs in their field of study. He enrolled in the CTA training last year after moving to the area from Minnesota to take the job at KCC.

“I was searching for tourism knowledge and what we have locally and creating new programs and coaching youth sports and I wanted to see how they could be connected,” Jordán-Salivia says. “I learned about the Visitors Bureau and the CTA program where I could learn about more local resources and once I was in it, I thought it would be a great addition to the Sports Management class.”

Certified Tourism Ambassadors learn about the Alligator Sanctuary, a rescue for pets given up by their owners.The CTA certification program is now a part of the KCC class PEP 222: Introduction to Sports Management offered this fall as one of the first classes leading up to the College’s new Associate of Applied Science in Sports Management degree.

“The partnership allows students to learn more about the industry and their community, and we gain new ambassadors for our community and some potential future candidates for tourism jobs,” says Linda Freybler, CEO of the CCVB.

The curriculum content created for Sports Management courses focuses heavily on major markets like Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Jordán-Salivia says he wanted to localize that curriculum and make what is being taught in theory more relevant for his students by familiarizing them with local attractions, including the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary in Athens and the American Museum of Magic in Marshall.

Martha Bunde, who earned her CTA in 2019, says having in-depth knowledge about attractions like the Alligator Sanctuary and the Magic Museum has come in handy for her in her roles at Albion College as an administrative secretary and Individual Student Coordinator.

“I make sure I’m stocked up on all the booklets which talk about the tourist attractions we have to offer in Calhoun County so I can give this information to visiting families of who may be coming here to pick up their student and have some time and want something different to do while they’re here. Some of them may be history buffs who don’t know about the different museums we have here.”

These families, she says, come from all different areas of the United States and that extends the word-of-mouth reach for the various local tourist attractions.

The American Museum of Magic in Marshall is a spot in the Calhoun County promoted by Certified Tourism Ambassadors.Jordán-Salivia says being able to talk to people about the lesser talked about attractions is among the benefits of the CTA training.

“I actually didn’t know about the Alligator Sanctuary or the Magic Museum,” he says. “When I first came here everyone talked about the main ones like the (Binder Park Zoo) and the downtown areas or they told me that I have to look into Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, or Kalamazoo.”

The CTA training, which is free to KCC’s Sports Management students, engages them with the history, culture, and potential of the areas surrounding Albion, Battle Creek, and Marshall, envisioning the growth of the sport industry in these locations while also learning how to provide visitors a positive experience.

“For me it has been very important to make the class more relevant because at the end of the day what makes the difference between us and any college for students who choose us is trying to equip them to say that what they’ve actually learned is useful,” Jordán-Salivia says. “Doing this CTA training connects students to real-world examples where they get to meet real professionals in the industry and connect what they’re learning to what we have here.”

Becoming an ambassador

The Certified Tourism Ambassadors training is offered six times a year and is taught by Stacy Laur, Visitor Services Specialist with the CVVB and head of the CTA program

Currently, there are 200 CTAs of varying ages and occupations, including retirees, in Calhoun County, one of only five areas in Michigan that have the CTA program. 

Laur says the training, which costs $25 per person, can benefit anyone who has an interest in promoting Calhoun County.

“This training program builds a strong positive destination image and enhances the experience for visitors while they’re here,” she says. “The more positive of an experience they have, the more likely they are to return.”

Certification requirements include required reading, attendance at a half-day classroom session dedicated to CTA training materials, and the completion of various learning assessments and a final exam.

Participants also are required to record 50 points which they earn by visiting different attractions or volunteering their time at places like their church or area schools. Different sets of points are attached to the types of places they visit or the volunteering that they do.

“This is getting them out into the community so that they are seeing what we have here,” Laur says. “The more you know about your community, the more you can say. Once you’re certified, we put you on our CTA email blast list which informs you about what’s going on in the area, upcoming volunteer opportunities at tourist attractions like the zoo, and information about networking events that give CTA’s that chance to meet and talk with each other.”

Emily Powell, Education and Outreach Manager for the Kingman Museum and a Certified Tourism Ambassador, says she has made some good connections and friends through these networking events. Powell was among the first people to take the training when it became available.

“The CTA training is first and foremost a great networking tool, not only are you sitting in a class talking and brainstorming with other organizations, but you’re also networking and befriending others in the arts, tourism, and culture fields,” Powell says. “When you’re working in these fields, you engage with locals and visitors to the community and you have more tools to connect with visitors to your organization because of the training.”

When people ask what there is to do in Calhoun County, she says she is pleased that she is able to offer suggestions.

A lot of people, Powell says, are surprised about Calhoun County’s rich history that includes the Underground Railroad, the military presence at Fort Custer, and arts and culture.

“There’s always something new that I’m learning,” she says.

As with any certification program, CTAs are required to re-certify annually by earning 50 points through visits to attractions or local businesses or volunteering. They also pay a renewal fee which is $20 before Halloween or $30 before December 31.

Laur says she measures the success of the CTA training program based on feedback and the number of yearly renewals.

“People are renewing and that tells me that people find value in being a CTA,” she says.

For more information about the CTA training, visit here.

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.