Workshop looks at city’s lesser-known attractions

Barbara Barnes started the workshop with a “Peanuts” comic. Linus is telling Charlie Brown about a trip he went on. All the hotels and shopping centers were the same as everywhere else.

She asked the 55 attendees, mostly customer service personnel from hotels in the state, “Would this be true if Linus came to Providence?”

It would be a great failing for the city if visitors leave without having found some unique and interesting experience that they can relay to their friends and relatives back home, said Barnes, tourism services manager for the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Barnes taught a four-hour workshop called “Positively Providence” last Monday at the R.I. Convention Center for the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. The CVB hadn’t offered the workshop for two years, but reinstated it, among other reasons, because of all the new restaurants, stores and other attractions in the city, said President and CEO Martha Sheridan.

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Restaurants such as Local 121 in the Dreyfus Hotel on Washington Street, retailers such as the wine store ENO on Westminster Street and the new Rhode Island School of Design Library, also on Westminster Street, were among the attractions highlighted at the workshop.

The goal was to teach anyone who interacts with tourists – including front desk personnel at hotels, wait staff and bartenders at restaurants, cab drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, retail clerks and even police officers – how to provide the best possible customer service while informing visitors of all the historical sites, arts and cultural venues, and best places to eat and drink.

As part of the workshop, Barnes took attendees on a bus tour of the city, pointing out several places to send visitors: from inexpensive restaurants such as Cilantro Mexican Grill on Weybosset Street, to mid-priced restaurants such as Bravo Brasserie on Empire Street and Cassarino’s on Atwells Avenue, to upscale dining establishments such as Gracie’s on Washington Street and Mill’s Tavern on North Main Street.

Michael Kachel, a chauffeur for All Occasion Transportation, said one of the questions he hears most from visitors is, where are the best places to eat and/or get a cup of coffee? Thus the information about locations and prices ranges will be useful, he said.

Based in Pawtucket, All Occasion Transportation offers chauffeured limousine, sedan and van services to mostly corporate clients, and it sent eight employees to the workshop.

The Providence Biltmore sent 12 people, while other participants included staff from Courtyard by Marriott hotels in Providence, Warwick and Lincoln; La Quinta; Providence Place mall; Greenvale Vineyards; Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; the R.I. Public Transit Authority; the Providence Department of Art, Culture & Tourism; and the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association.

Barnes said the workshop filled up so quickly that PWCVB decided to organize another one in August.

“We’ll do them as often as we need to, to meet demand,” Sheridan said, adding that eventually it will probably become a quarterly offering.

Tom Reil, director of sales and marketing at the newly opened Renaissance Providence Hotel, said he already has a waiting list with sales managers, front desk personnel, concierges and bellmen that he would like to send.

The Renaissance sent six people to attend last week’s workshop, which cost $20 per person.

“It’s a tremendous value for the amount paid,” Reil said – especially for a hotel that aims to reflect the “vibrant arts community in the city,” even offering creative tools such as Etch-a-sketches and Buddha Boards in the lobby to awaken guests’ creativity.

“I’m confident [the workshop] could parlay itself to a more experimental experience for our guests,” Reil said.

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