New Jersey's “tough guy” image will no doubt be on the minds of some visitors who descend on the region in February for Super Bowl XLVIII.
But Jim Kirkos hopes to change that with some simple hospitality from the locals.
To help the cause, individuals and businesses can sharpen those skills in a one-day training program in North Jersey. The certificate course in "excellence in visitor experience," which has dates through December, is being offered by the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce and Bergen County Community College.
Kirkos, the chamber's president and CEO, said providing a warm welcome is about more than just customer service for the thousands of visitors who will come here. It's also about providing guidance about the destination, from facilities such as Secaucus Junction to attractions like Medieval Times and the Liberty Science Center.
And in the cross-Hudson competition for tourism dollars, every little advantage helps, especially with a growing focus on bringing major events to the region, Kirkos said. He said that for New York City, "all it has to do is wake up in the morning … and it does all kinds of business. And whether you're nice or not, people are going."
"In New Jersey, we don't have as many destination assets, but we have a lot to offer," said Kirkos, a former hospitality and catering business owner. "So if we're going to win some business now and in the future, we need a competitive edge."
The eight-hour training class was inspired by trips to other recent Super Bowl host destinations such as Indianapolis, Kirkos said. It's been geared toward cab drivers, restaurant workers and "anybody that would touch and come in contact with a visitor."
Kirkos also believes the certificate program has long-term benefits for beyond the Super Bowl.
"As an employer … I would look at and pick that résumé over somebody else that didn't have that training," Kirkos said.