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Thu, Jan. 28

Grand Canyon Chamber gets general manager

In June Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitors Bureau hired Laura Chastain as its full time general manager. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

In June Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitors Bureau hired Laura Chastain as its full time general manager. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - While on vacation, discovering the best places to sleep, eat and visit are essential. As the the first general manager at the Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitor's Bureau in several years, Laura Chastain (GCCVB) plans to use her experience to do just that.

The GCCVB is like having a local person's insight into the best of everything Tusayan and the Grand Canyon has to offer.

Whether it be an hour visit or several days, the purpose of a chamber is to point people in the right direction to have the best experiences possible during their visit to the area and to support the local economy through promoting its businesses.

To make a chamber successful it needs a strong leader who is dedicated to businesses and community members alike.

A chamber manager is an advocate for business owners and employers. They promote the town, are dedicated to the community's best interests and help visitors experience everything the town has to offer. They also promote and strengthen their communities by helping build a healthy economy.

Chastain was selected as general manager in June by a sub-committee of board members.

With a background in public management, corporate education, safety and health, human resources and recruiting management boardmembers felt her qualifications fit the chamber's needs. Chastain was one of two candidates who applied for the position.

"The applicants were both great but Laura's varied background and the training she has done in Yosemite - she has lived in and understands national parks," said Clarinda Vail, president of GCCVB. "She has a lot of ideas and I think it will be very valuable to the business side, not just the visitor side, of the chamber. I am just so excited to have a manager. It has been the board doing it and it's just not the same for events or anything. It's wonderful for our membership and the visitors alike that we have a manager."

Chastain recently moved from Yosemite National Park after her husband was offered a risk management position with Delaware North, a concessionaire in Grand Canyon National Park. For the last 10 years, Chastain worked at Yosemite as a recruiting manager. After her contract ended earlier this year, Chastain and the couple's adopted son, joined Chastin's husband at the Grand Canyon, where he had already started working.

Upon arriving, Chastain enrolled her son at Kaibab Learning Center (KLC) and volunteered to help with the Easter egg hunt and pancake breakfast put on by the Grand Canyon Rotary and KLC.

Having always been actively involved in her communities, Chastain joined Rotary and shortly thereafter was offered the position of general manager for the chamber.

Chastain said with the training and positions she has held she is confident she can help the chamber move closer to its primary purposes.

"Part of it is a little intimidating but it is exciting," she said. "I looked at the job description of what they wanted a chamber manager to be able to do for the town and it all resonated with me."

One of Chastain's first tasks as chamber manager was to advertise the annual Fourth of July parade. She printed out flyers and spent several days walking Grand Canyon Village and Tusayan handing out and posting flyers. She also spent three days at a Governor's Conference on Tourism in Tucson, where she was introduced to chamber managers and representatives from around the state.

"I came in at a really good time," she said. "I got here in time for the Fourth of July and then was able to get to the Governor's Conference on Tourism and meet different people and now I have a handful of cards that I'll follow up with, because that's what I do."

Even though the chamber has not had a manager in several years, Chastain said the chamber was consistently represented at conferences and events and said stepping in as chamber manager was not as hard as it could have been.

"While we haven't had a manager the board has kept everything going as much as they can through their volunteer efforts and making events continue to happen," she said. "It (the chamber) has been represented but definitely in need of someone to pull all the chamber members together. That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

Developing relationships with employers, employees, community members and visitors is important to Chastain. She sees her main role as helping to bring together employers and employees so that together they can create a majestic experience of what the area and the Canyon has to offer.

"It's about (getting) face to face with people and getting out and meeting community members because it's not until you meet the community members and pull them in that you really know what they can offer," she said.

Chastain said she plans to start by making little changes that will benefit Tusayan and Grand Canyon. Her first to do item was to update the chamber's Facebook page and hang a 'Like us on Facebook' sign in the visitor center. She plans to be more involved in social media and create a calendar of events for the chamber's website. Another idea is to put up a white board in the visitor center for guests to reference when looking for hotel vacancies.

"Even in town we don't know necessarily what the other members are doing," Chastain said. "I think everyone is doing a good job of trying to attract people to their businesses and share the Grand Canyon experience but we don't do a good job of sharing that information together. So that's where I see the chamber really coming in - helping people to share that Grand Canyon experience - in places of business and in the visitor center."

Chamber boardmembers also asked Chastain to try and help promote off season tourism (November - March). One audience she hopes to reach is Arizonans traveling within the state.

"There are 10.2 million visitors in Arizona from Arizona, with an average of three nights stay in places," Chastain said. "(Arizonans) are doing a lot of staycations."

Targeting 10.2 million Arizonans is one area where she believes tourism could improve.

One idea the chamber is working on is possibly creating a Friends of the Chamber membership which would offer a variety of specials during the off season.

To go hand in hand with supporting local businesses and targeting new audiences, Chastain said she wants to work with businesses to improve customer service.

She plans to do this by offering training and educational classes. Beginning in February the chamber will conduct once a month trainings for employees. Classes will include customer service and how to up-sale training and will incorporate educational training to help employees understand and appreciate the area they work in.

"My idea is to do two three hour sessions... we'll have an hour and have different people present on their properties and what they do and what they have to offer," Chastain said. "The more versed your people are, the better experience they're going to have here at the Canyon and the more they're going to tell their friends and customers."

The Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitor's Bureau has 36 full members (businesses in Grand Canyon and Tusayan) and 29 associated members (outlying communities).

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