Sonoma County Tourism

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Tourism celebrates top in service at annual ambassador luncheon

SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA — Sonoma County Tourism celebrated hospitality and service at the Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) awards luncheon, held Thursday, Feb. 22, at Soda Rock Winery in Healdsburg.

“We are celebrating our fifth anniversary this year,' said Mo McElroy, Sonoma County CTA program manager. “I'm constantly amazed at how passionate our CTAs are about turning every visitor experience into memorable one. At this point, 2,200 people have gone through the CTA program, representing more than 370employers.'

Nicole Bradin, Sonoma County Tourism's director of community engagement, explained the awards were given to CTAs who exemplify excellence in hospitality and customer service.

“Congratulations to our award winners and all our CTAs whose service, dedication, and pride leave a lasting impression on our visitors,' Bradin said. “Our Certified Tourism Ambassadors are the heart and soul of Sonoma County's tourism industry.'

The award recipients consistently exceed customers' expectations, possess a strong knowledge of the region and its attractions, and promote the ideals of Sonoma County Tourism and the Tourism Ambassador Institute™, the national organization. The Certified Tourism Ambassador program is a national professional designation for the hospitality and tourism industry.

“The most wonderful thing about the thousands of CTAs in Sonoma County and across the nation is that they don't do what they do to get awards,' said Mickey Schaefer, FASAE, CAE, CTA, founder of the Tourism Ambassador Institute, who attended the event. “CTAs are noticed because they have big hearts, they care about visitors, and they consistently exceed expectations. In today's fast-paced travel world, CTAs are an oasis of genuineness that is remarkable and refreshing.'

In addition to offering guests amazing customer service, CTAs are giving back to local communities: In 2017, 350 volunteers in Sonoma County logged 12,000-plus volunteer hours, valued at $295,200, at 23 local events and festivals. (According to, one hour of volunteer time is valued at $24.60.)

“The positive energy in this room is inspiring,' Braden said. “And, as you can see by the volunteer hours, we're leveraging that energy to provide a positive impact in all the communities we serve.

“While technology is a valuable resource, we all know that face-to-face interactions and great customer service is the bedrock of our industry,' she added. “That's what changes visitors into fans of our destination.'

Educator Awards
SCT also recognizes the importance of workforce development, McElroy explained. “This year, we worked with area colleges, high schools, and the Sonoma County Office of Adult Education to offer the CTA program as part of their curriculum.'

Accepting the first-ever Sonoma County CTA Educator Awards were Marie Ganister and Pam Uchytilk for Windsor High School; Shelley Anderson for Healdsburg High School, Mike Von der Porten for Santa Rosa Junior College, and Neil Pacheco for both Sonoma County Adult Education and Petaluma Adult Education. Unable to attend the event were representatives from award winners El Molino High School and Empire College.

CTA Excellence Awards
“It's always difficult to narrow down the list of nominees and actually choose just one recipient per category,' McElroy said. “You, our nominees, amaze me daily. Your enthusiasm, and energy inspire your co-workers, other CTAs, and, most importantly, our visitors.'

Nominees and winners are listed by geographical area.

Central Sonoma County
Ray Crowder, CTA, California Welcome Center (winner)
Lynne Morin, CTA, Sonoma County Airport
Sally Crain, CTA, Century 21 Realty

Northern Sonoma County
Aaron Costa, CTA, Healdsburg Vino Tours
Katie Andrews, CTA, Geyserville Inn
James Luchini, CTA, Francis Ford Coppola Winery (winner)

Pacific Coast
Brian Larsen, CTA, Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa
Olivia Saxe, CTA, Inn at the Tides
Patty Ginochio, Sonoma Concierge (winner)

Russian River
Genevieve Engel, CTA, Betty Spaghetti Restaurant/ R3 Resort
Marina & Michael McTaggart, CTA, Monte Rio Chamber of Commerce
Laura Wilson, CTA, Monte Rio Triathlon (winner)

Sonoma Valley
Laurie Flippen, CTA, Destination Drivers
Karen Buchanan, CTA, Jack London State Park (winner)
Janice Shuck, CTA, Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau

Western Sonoma County
Linda Collins, CTA, Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce
Grace Meacham, CTA, Taft Street Winery
Kristine Beck, CTA, Twisted Horn Ranch (winner)

CTA of the Year (and nominee for the national CTA awards)
The CTA of the Year is Tony Bucklen, Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, who showed remarkable leadership during the October wildfires even though his hotel was destroyed. He is also Sonoma County's nominee for the national Certified Tourism Ambassador awards.

Shining Star
The Shining Star award is given to a hospitality or tourism business that offers star-quality service. This year, the honor goes to River's End Restaurant & Inn in Jenner. Owner Bert Rangel accepted the award.

To put on the awards luncheon, Sonoma County Tourism relied on the help and expertise of Isabelle Adams, Sarah Davis, and the rest of the team at Soda Rock Winery; Evelyn Cheatham, Worth Our Weight; Pure Luxury Transportation; and SCT's Super Ambassadors: Ziggy the Wine Gal, Clark Wolf, and Stephan Stubbins.

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Sonoma County Tourism promotes Sonoma County as a leisure, business, and group travel destination. Tourism generates more than $1.93 billion annually for the local economy. The Sonoma County Tourism offices are located at 400 Aviation Blvd., Ste. 500, Santa Rosa, California, 95403.

Media Contact:
Tina Luster
[email protected]