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'Discover Springfield' gives tourist-friendly information

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by Carrie Groves

SBJ Contributing Writer

They stream into Springfield every day, heading for no-holds-barred shopping sprees, entertainment and recreation. They eat their meals in local restaurants, curl up in local motel rooms at night, and buy souvenirs and presents at stores all over town.

They're tourists, and their time spent in Springfield means money spent here, as well. Whether it's the waitress serving them the special of the day, or the salesman fitting them for boots, the individual's response to tourists can have a big influence on how visitors perceive Springfield.

To help businesspeople more easily meet tourists' sometimes overwhelming demand for information, the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau offers "Discover Springfield" classes four times a year. The classes are open to anyone who has frequent contact with visitors and can help familiarize employees in high tourist-contact businesses such as restaurants, motels and specialty retail stores with the many tourist attractions in and around town, according to the CVB.

Although there are no exact numbers on how many tourists visit Springfield annually, 1.5 million motel/hotel rooms were booked last year. More than 4 million regional visitors came to town for a day's visit in 1998, scouring the antique stores for collectibles, nibbling at eateries, stopping at specialty shops like PFI Western Store, and spending hours at the Battlefield Mall.

According to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Springfield has a reputation among visitors for hospitality and friendliness. Participation in the "Discover Springfield" class provides the information that can turn a friendly clerk into a goodwill ambassador for the area, according to the CVB.

Kristin Kubitschek, communications coordinator for the CVB, said she attended the class not long ago and found it both enjoyable and educational. After an initial presentation, class participants are sent home with written materials and a punch card for admission to major local attractions.

Four to six weeks later, the class meets again for a written test that measures their understanding of what they read and experienced. Classes can be offered more often based on demand. Linda McNally, convention services/group tour coordinator for the CVB, is the teacher.

Tracy Kimberlin, executive director for the CVB, said local businesspeople can influence a tourist's experience simply by being friendly.

"In my opinion," Kimberlin said, "the places I remember in my travels are the places where people went out of their way to be helpful and courteous, regardless of what local attractions there were. Local residents should be informed about what there is to see and do in this area. And remember that visitors may have different tastes than we do. The visitor may be really interested in attractions that you as an individual may not care for."

To help familiarize residents with area attractions, the CVB will be kicking off a campaign this spring that focuses attention on "the host of adventures right here in our own backyard," Kubitschek said. Local attractions will offer free and discounted admissions, as well as sponsoring special events to draw Springfieldians and their guests.

Kimberlin says he also hopes the campaign will give local residents an appreciation of the travel industry and its importance to the economy and the general quality of life in Springfield. The campaign coincides in part with National Tourism Week, May 2-8. The CVB, which is located at 3315 E. Battlefield, will also sponsor information booths at Artsfest and Firefall.

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