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Bob Doak, president of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, addresses hundreds of tourism industry workers during a hospitality training session Monday at the Chattanooga convention center.

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Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Cenvention and Visitors Bureau, talks to guests as a high-definition live video stream from the Tennessee Aquarium is unveiled in the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport lobby on Tuesday, Mar. 29, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

When Chattanooga hosted its first Ironman competition in 2013, participants gave the event a 97 percent satisfaction rating — the highest rating that event organizers had ever got for an Ironman competition anywhere in the world.

Conventioneers surveyed after attending meetings in Chattanooga last year gave the city a 97 percent satisfaction rating, according to Unifocus Post Meeting surveys.

And Chattanooga's Visitors Center recently received the 2016 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence after receiving a 4.5 rating out of a 5-point maximum.

"Awards like this help build the confidence of our visitors as they are booking their travel," said Candace Davis, marketing manager for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Such favorable grades also are helping Chattanooga build its billion-dollar-a-year tourism business, hotel, restaurant and visitor center employees were told Monday. As much as Chattanooga's natural and man-made attractions help bring 3 million visitors a year to Hamilton County, the service and hospitality they receive while here brings many of them come back, officials said.

"We're getting into our peak tourism season with school out and we want to make sure that those who come to Chattanooga continue to have an unforgettable experience," Bob Doak, president of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told hundreds of tourism industry workers Monday. "When these folks go back home, they are the best ambassadors and the best advertisers we have anywhere. If you continue to go above and beyond they we will continue to grow this great industry for our region."

Doak and other tourism leaders are leading 90-minute sessions this week with a record 2,100 workers in the local hospitality industry to help educate those who are greeting and serving tourists about all that Chattanooga has to offer and how important it is to deliver service with a smile and a welcoming spirit.

"Now a days what a guest expects is a whole lot more than even five years ago," said Phil Bruno, a customer service consultant and motivational speaker from the St. Louis company known as Treat "em Right." "People expect to have customized services just for them so what we try to do is to encourage those in customer service to work toward exceeding every guests' expectations."

Bruno said he started as a busy boy in 1973 and never got any training as he moved up the customer service ranks.

"We want to give people some help in how to serve others." he said.

The tourism bureau has been conducting such hospitality sessions at the start of summer each year for the past 25 years. The idea is to help the city's hotel desk clerks, parking attendants, police officers, taxi drivers, restaurant servers and bus drivers — the people who come face-to-face with tourists every day — know how to best sell Chattanooga and interact with visitors.

Those attending the meetings Monday and today will get VIP passes to many of Chattanooga's top attractions so they can visit them in person and make personal recommendations and offer individual advice to guest when they ask about what Chattanooga offers.

"Many times, these people are the first people a visitor sees when they come to our city and they are the last ones they see when they leave," Doak said. "Being a gracious and hospitable host makes for an even better experience. Having the tourism team make it easy for folks by providing directions, being helpful and being welcoming, we believe, sets us a part from many other cities."

Chattanooga's tourism business has increased more than four-fold over the past three decades, according to hotel bookings and tax collections. In 2014, Hamilton County grew its tourism industry to top $1 billion for the first time and Doak said the industry is continuing to grow.

Chattanooga has booked more than 250 meetings this year that will fill more than 160,000 hotel rooms, while more than 90 sporting events are projected to generate $33 million of economic impact for Hamilton County this year.

The local tourism industry directly employs 8,500 workers in Hamilton County and the money spent by visitors helps offset the equivalent of $500 in property tax payments for the average Chattanooga home owners, Doak said.

"This is a vital industry that has a tremendous economic impact," he said. "Tourists help pay for a lot of the things that we enjoy."

Chattanooga targets the 62 million people who live within a 400-mile radius of Chattanooga who can easily drive to Chattanooga. Davis said the tourism bureau will spend more than $1 million this year advertising Chattanooga to prospective visitors under the theme "Best Town Ever" — an honor the city earned again last year from Outdoor magazine.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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