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GOMES GAMING | News | AC Press - Feb. 26, 2010

Atlantic City Taxi, Jitney Drivers to Learn How to Impress Guests

By MICHAEL CLARK Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

ATLANTIC CITY - Discussing Atlantic City's tourism future, Farleigh Dickinson University Professor Donald Hoover did what any good teacher would do to get his point across: Quote from anothers who said it best.

And who better to quote than the late state Sen. Frank S. "Hap" Farley, the man who went to great lengths to deliver Atlantic City visitors their vices.

"It's not difficult to get people to come here," Farley told a crowd following the legalization of casino gambling in Atlantic City. "But I have to warn you that it is difficult to get people to return here, especially if you don't treat them the way they should be treated. It's incumbent upon all of us to be courteous, to be the hosts that we would expect."

These days, drawing tourists to Atlantic City has become more difficult, with a slumping economy and gaming competition cutting into local revenues. Hoover, along with others, is working on reviving Farley's edict with the hope that it will help resuscitate the city's tourism industry.

"Part of keeping up with competition is ensuring that the people that do visit come back," said Dennis Gomes, a former executive at Tropicana Casino and Resort. Gomes has tapped two college professors who specialize in hospitality - Hoover and Jane Bokunewicz, of Drexel University - to develop a curriculum for a new training program.

The program, still in its infancy stages, would target public and private Atlantic City employees who interact with visitors, most notably taxi drivers, jitney drivers and rolling chair operators, Gomes said.

Hoover said the program would generally have three targets: Beyond improving the general interactions between businesses and customers, Atlantic City must instill a feeling that the customer is getting value from the various services being provided and make any process a tourist goes through as convenient as possible.
Bokunewicz said she and Hoover previously worked for Gomes at the Tropicana and were both happy to volunteer their efforts to the cause. She said there still are various aspects of the program that need to be determined beyond creating the curriculum.

One issue is funding, which Hoover said will hopefully come from both state grants and private donations. Hoover said the group also might need to circulate some surveys to add to their knowledge of Atlantic City's visitors.
"We've got a lot ... on our customers (in Atlantic City) and their habits, but we might have to go out and get some more," he said.

Finally, there is the issue of participation, which those involved hope will not be an obstacle.

Paul Rosenberg, president of Atlantic City's Yellow Cab Co., said he would embrace the program for his drivers, acknowledging that there is room for improvement.
"The first contact that a visitor has with the city is with a cab driver or jitney driver, and, you know, first impressions are important," Rosenberg said.

He noted that some drivers hailing from other countries could also benefit from understanding certain American customs to fill the cultural gap between the driver and the customer.

The Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority has been involved with smaller-scale training programs before but is not currently offering any, authority spokeswoman Elaine Zamansky said.

But she said the authority has pushed to encourage customer courtesy in the city, mostly through its Host Awards, an annual recognition of people in the hospitality industry. The 13th annual Atlantic City Host Awards will take place May 12 in the ballroom at Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall.

Zamansky said the authority is aware of Gomes' hospitality initiative but could not confirm whether the authority would be involved. Gomes, however, said there will be various agencies cooperating.

"Atlantic City, since its founding, has had a rich history of providing a unique, top quality guest experience," Hoover said. "Our goal is to reinforce the service and guest-experience tradition."


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