That’s why Ebonee Thompson, the chamber’s director of tourism, invited employees from local hotels, restaurants and businesses to board a charter bus today and spend the day seeing their backyards through the eyes of out-of-town visitors.
“Use this opportunity to be a tourist in your own town,” Thompson said to the group of 12 participating in what Thompson described as the chamber’s first-ever familiarization tour. “Do things you wouldn’t normally do, ask questions you wouldn’t normally ask.”
The idea for a tour to educate the hospitality industry on the highlights of Calhoun County has been a long-term project for Thompson, who first mentioned it to the chamber when interviewing for her job in 2011.
“It really was born out of a necessity for our front-line staff to familiarize themselves with what guests want to see,” Thompson said. “They’re the ones who are typically the first people our guests see, and they need to know just as much as anybody in town about what there is to do here.”
For Marvin Thompson, the general manager of the Courtyard Marriott in Oxford, Today's tour was the first time he’s seen some of the county’s most common attractions, he said, including Janney Furnace in Ohatchee and Centennial Memorial Park in Anniston.
“I’ve been telling people stuff I’ve seen off our bulletin board, but it’s better to have physically seen the places,” said the hotel manager, who’s lived in Calhoun County for a little more than a year. “It’s better to say you did it than you read about it.”
While many of today's stops were on well-worn roads, including Oxford’s new Art Center, Berman Museum in Anniston and the Public Square in Jacksonville, Ebonee Thompson said the purpose of part of the tour was to take in lesser-known county attractions, like a restored train depot in Jacksonville and Weaver’s BMX bike park.
“Jacksonville has a lot to offer but if you stay on 21 you’re going to miss it,” said Janice Burns, superintendent of parks and recreation for that city. “You really need to get off the beaten path.”
Burns could easily have been talking about all of Calhoun County. Earlier in the day Edmund Joseph, the director at Cider Ridge Golf Course in Oxford, said people tend to hear about the destination five miles from Interstate 20 through word of mouth.
“You really don’t just kind of pass by the place and stop in,” he said.
Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory said while she had been to most of the sites along the tour, it was an important reminder that there are places of interest in Calhoun County that hold appeal for people traveling to the area.
“We sometimes take for granted what we have here and think we need to get out of town to see something significant,” McCrory said. “We might not have the Eiffel Tower, but we have what we have, and it’s important.”
Thompson of the chamber said she hoped to make the familiarization tour an annual event.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.