Wichita’s tourism department wants to shape people’s first impressions of the city, and it’s got a plan for how to do so.
Visit Wichita, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, hopes that by giving taxi drivers customer service lessons it can bolster the city’s image among tourists.
“Particularly with people coming in by air, (taxi drivers) are the first contact with the city,” said Jan Hiebert, Visit Wichita’s partnership services manager. “We want them to know what to tell them when they say, ‘What is there to do in Wichita?’ Usually when you get something like that the answer is nothing, and we want to avoid that.”
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In 2012, Wichita made it a requirement that city taxi drivers pass a customer service class every two years to renew their license.
On Wednesday, Visit Wichita hosted four local taxi drivers for its quarterly class.
The roughly 90-minute session gave practical tips, such as learning the passenger’s name and recognizing repeat customers, to the “10/5 Rule.” That means to acknowledge customers when they are 10 feet away, and start a conversation at 5 feet away.
Habte Manna, a first-time taxi driver in Wichita, said the class helped him learn how to deal professionally with irate customers.
“(Taxi) drivers are the ambassadors of the city, the image of the city,” said Manna, who came to Wichita from western Africa. “Before they get into the cab, they have to have the training.”
So what are taxi drivers taught to recommend to their customers?
There are the Wichita standbys, such as Exploration Place and the Keeper of the Plains.
But they’re also taught about other things that are “uniquely Wichita,” such as Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works and the igloo-looking Riordan Clinic.
They don’t get told how to drive the taxi or which routes to take, because “oftentimes people want the most direct route,” Hiebert said.
Wichita attracts about 6 million visitors per year, according to Visit Wichita. Of those 6 million, 47 percent are here for “leisure day trips,” 34 percent are visiting friends and relatives, and 19 percent are staying at hotels.
Those visitors spent $1,021.5 billion in Wichita in 2013, according to Visit Wichita.