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UTICA, N.Y. -- The convenience stores that line the local highways in upstate New York generally live up to their names.
Travelers can get almost any flavor of ice cream, soft drinks and snack. But if you're lost, you're in trouble.
C-stores aren't always the best places to get directions to local tourist attractions, an informal survey conducted last week by the Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch found.
Hoping to reverse the findings, the Oneida County Convention and Visitors Bureau has been running hospitality training for several years with spotty response from businesses, and the Utica, N.Y.-based Genesis Group recently kicked off a new ambassador program to teach workers in local establishments what's going on in their back yard so they will be better informed to communicate with customers.
The newspaper report found that store workers were universally friendly and eager to help visitors get to their destinations, but often lacked the resources, such as maps and brochures, to provide correct information.
Peggy Warner of the Fastrac Convenience Market received high marks from the newspaper. At the request of a reporter, it took her only a moment of reflection to dredge up the preferred route to Fort Stanwix in Rome, a county away.
When told that in a few other cases his employees were not aware of the best way to get to local destinations, Fastrac marketing Vice President John Lytwynec said his company would do more to assist its employees, including adding map sections to older stores that do not have them. "In our new stores, we do put in a map section," he said. "I think that would be the best way for us to handle this. We also can look into getting handouts of things that are more specific."
Theresa Brown, a clerk at the Nice N Easy in Kirkland, N.Y. wasn't exactly sure how to get to nearby Fort Stanwix in Rome, but she gave street-by-street directions to the much more distant Herkimer Diamond Mines. Likewise, workers at Stewart's Shops, Mobil and SavOn stores were helpful and in some cases were successful at directing a reporter to local attractions, but in other cases they were not. Many area Stewart's Shops had local road maps posted for customers. Unfortunately, they don't highlight local tourist attractions.
Brian Delaney is heading the Genesis Group's new Link effort to promote the region's assets. He is challenging area businesses to make sure their staff is armed with the information they need to be ambassadors of their community, and encourages their suggestions and input. "Visitors shouldn't have to rely on luck or depend on the memory of a convenience store clerk who also has a job to do," he said.
Tourism bureau Chairman Christopher Destito said he has tried for years to resolve the problem. "We hold seminars for the frontline people involved in tourism, one in Rome and one in Utica each year to make people aware of events and attractions in the area," Destito said.
But Paul Ziegler, executive director of the bureau, said the turnouts are low. "We held a hospitality seminar last week and had a disappointing turnout. We had 25 at one and 35 at another. We're never satisfied with the numbers that come, but we're appreciative of those that do," he said.