Krawczak: Now more than ever, put your best foot forward

Did you see in the news recently about Yorktown, the Great Lakes cruise ship that has scheduled stops in Alpena, starting this summer? That great news is just one of many opportunities this year that Alpena has to put their best foot forward and make a positive impression to thousands of visitors.

In addition to the regular tourism we expect in 2013, there are several additional events, conferences, conventions, and special circumstances that will bring in thousands of visitors throughout the year. Just to provide you with an example of the impact we expect this year, while working on this column I took a phone call from someone traveling to Alpena in mid-April. She was having trouble booking a hotel room for part of her visit. After exploring the calendar of events, I figured out why.

In mid-April (when there still may be snow on the ground), Alpena does indeed have a shortage of hotel rooms. That’s an exciting problem to have. Not only does it start to build a stronger case for a new lodging property, but it also means we are building capacity of visitors to make a tremendous impact on the economy.

For a community, the potential that visitors bring with them is much greater than the few days they spend here. Sure, those days are important to the places at which the visitors choose to spend money. But the residual potential from each visitor is much bigger than that. To capitalize on that potential, we have to treat them right, and cultivate and nurture that potential into something great. We have to treat visitors in such a way that when they leave, they work on our behalf.

We have many hopes for visitors. We hope that they leave and tell others how great they were treated by the people who live and work here. We hope they recommend this area as a destination to others. We hope they choose to come back themselves. We hope that we get some who later decide to make this their home. We hope that at least one or two see a business opportunity in the area, or if they are already a business owner, they see expansion opportunities here.

That’s a lot of potential. But we must find ways to foster that development and start those conversations.

What’s the best way to initiate that activity? It really comes down to the basics of proper guest treatment and customer service. This means treating them right with a welcoming attitude, and a smile and nod when passing them on the sidewalk or in a hallway. It means having a clean community where citizens take pride in their homes, properties and neighborhoods. And it means engaging visitors in conversation and telling them how great you think your community is.

I can’t tell you what putting your best foot forward means to you, but I know what it looks like for me. It is smiling at people I pass on the sidewalk. It’s answering the phone at work with a smile in my voice. It’s hiring employees willing to provide great customer service. It’s accepting and considering constructive criticism. It’s the continuation of training in best practices.

What does your best foot forward look like?

Whether it’s the Harley Owner’s Group Rally, the Rotary district conference, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center’s training and conferences, the Yorktown cruise ship, or some other event or activity (yes, there are plenty more), we need to engage those visitors. We need to treat them right and make sure they consider returning to Alpena and certainly make sure they leave with a glowing review to share with others.

When I say”we,” I don’t mean staff at the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Downtown Development Authority, or some other organization. I mean “we” as in all of us. You. Your family. Your friends and co-workers. The entire community. From employees at our businesses to a person they pass on the street, everyone plays a role in a visitor’s experience.

Please don’t be the one who chooses not to give them the experience they deserve. We need everyone on the same team to cultivate the potential that comes with these visitors.

Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.