Want to be an Ambassador for Cleveland?

Eric Embacher leading out in the presentation

Curious about how the Republican Convention is going to impact Cleveland (my new home, but actually in Lakewood and more people know where Cleveland is than Lakewood), wondering how the city is preparing for it and being a former member of the NYC Press Corps, I did some digging around and stumbled upon the Destination Cleveland site through some connections I had at my "Faces of Lakewood" Twitter page. Before I continue, I must make a disclaimer that I'm not publishing this in the Lakewood Observer but here in the Ohio City/Tremont paper simply because you're way closer and things that might happen downtown will affect you sooner and more directly than the inner ring suburb city of Lakewood.

Destination Cleveland has a CLE Travelbackers training program sponsored by PNC that was launched in 2013 that provides Cleveland's frontline travel and tourism staff with the knowledge and tools needed to help enhance a visitor's experience. It just so happens that Cleveland is expecting a ton of visitors this summer for the GOP Convention (RNC). In preparation, Destination Cleveland has created a program to teach participants (they call "backers") who have a passion and vested interest in Cleveland and have an interest in the goal to ensure visitors who travel here will want to come back and spread good words about Cleveland.  Destination Cleveland calls these individuals "Travelbackers", but I prefer to call them "Ambassadors." They've been holding three hour interactive workshops on every Tuesday, striving to make the $3 billion investment in Cleveland's visitor-related infrastructure a profitable and wise investment, by offering volunteer "travelbackers/ambassadors" suggestions, instructions and information so that the face(s) they present to visitors will be the best one(s) possible.

Ideally this program is designed for Cleveland's frontline hospitality staff (cab drivers, bus drivers, tour guides, concierges, service industry personnel etc.), but the program is open to anyone who would like to attend. There is a cost but through the generosity of PNC Bank, up to five members from an organization can attend May and June training programs for free.  Otherwise it is availabe for $35. More information is provided at www.cletravelbackers.com. Even if you're not a part of this group, you can still share your Cleveland pride through social media using #ThisisCLE. Photos are always welcome and that's why we have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and blogs, right?

I decided to ask for a media invite to their May 3rd session at Pickwick and Frolic on E. 4th St. They were happy to oblige and the following is my take on one of their training seminars. Lead out by Eric Embacher (Visitor Experience Program Manager) in a nicely decorated room with separate round tables and a computer monitor screen in front, the 14 participants seemed to be eager and happy to be there. Also present were Jennifer Kramer (Senior Communications Manager, Destination Cleveland) and Katie Rush (Communications Intern). Immediately I was impressed with the first half of the presentation focusing on communication skills that would help these "travelbackers" be more friendly and engaging with the myriad of visitors that were expected. It was presented in an engaging way with humorous examples and supported by logical easy to understand reasons why certain verbal interactions work well and why some don't. Aiding this whole process where handouts that were nicely and attractively packaged to help in the audio/visual presentation. 

At intermission I was given permission to briefly interview two of the participants, both of whom worked at The House of Blues, which happens to be next door to the site. Alexis Castros was approached by her managers asking her if she would be interested in this program and she agreed to participate. Quite interestingly, when I asked her if she had a personal stake in this interest she told me that she really didn't know Cleveland at all but simply the route to her garage and to work. In an interest to expand her experience, she said she wanted to get out of that comfort zone and see what was out there. Living in Strongsville, she realized that Cleveland had a lot more to offer, such as concerts and arts and cultural events she couldn't get in her hometown. As a host in her place of employment, she wold be the liaison and connection between her many convention guests and Cleveland proper. Kayli Diar was also asked by her boss, who was looking for employees who radiated energy and a happy demeanor, and she fit the bill to be an individual who could put a happy face on The House of Blues and the City of Cleveland. She also moved to Cleveland "blindly" not knowing anything about it and wanted to learn more about its history. She specifically referred to the keystone structures she saw. They both agreed that they liked this hospitality part of the overall program and both were looking forward to the "learning Cleveland" aspect to come.

There you have it. An interesting way to allow Clevelandites to have a vested interest in their community. If you'd like to get involved, go to www.cletravelbackers.com.

Alex Belisle

Former NYC Press Corps, NIKE Basketball, NYFW photographer and before that HS English teacher in NYC.

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Volume 1, Issue 2, Posted 9:20 PM, 05.10.2016