Each year, Sonoma County draws 7 million visitors, who spend more than $1.2 billion at hotels, restaurants, wineries and other attractions.
Two new programs are teaching businesses how to keep them coming back.
“A one-on-one encounter can make or break a visitor's experience,” said Mickey Schaefer, who is leading Sonoma County's Certified Tourism Ambassador program.
The program will train 500 hospitality workers and others who regularly meet visitors, including taxi drivers, gas station attendants, police officers, airport employees and retail staff.
They'll learn about local attractions and resources, polish their customer service skills and help travelers enjoy their time in Sonoma County.
The county's destination marketing arm, the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, is spending $100,000 on the training program over the next two years.
Meanwhile, Healdsburg's visitors bureau is rolling out a service skills program next month tailored more closely for hotels, shops, restaurants and wineries.
Such efforts are essential in a highly competitive market for travel dollars, Schaefer told a tourism conference in Santa Rosa last month.
“I can't tell you how many destinations are struggling,” said Schaefer, an Arizona consultant who helps local visitor programs improve their results.
With the rise of social media, visitors' good or bad impressions of a place can spread quickly, Schaefer said.
“You're in a fishbowl now,” she told the group.
Excellent service pays dividends, said Will Seppi, who owns Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg, a favorite destination for Wine Country visitors. About half of his customers are tourists.
“We want them to leave our town with a positive experience,” he said. “They'll go home and tell their friends what a great time they had.”
Key employees at the bakery will attend the Healdsburg program, and they'll train the rest of his staff, Seppi said.