Welcome to the First Autism-Certified City in the US, with Marc Garcia

Episode 275

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Marc Garcia has been at the helm of Visit Mesa, the City of Mesa’s award-winning destination marketing organization, since 2012. He earned the DMO numerous visitor industry accolades and marketing campaign awards during this time. He was the catalyst for helping Mesa earn the first-ever Autism Certified City distinction in late 2019.

Marc leads a team of 15 full-time employees focused on selling and marketing Mesa, Arizona, as a must-experience destination in Arizona.

On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Marc Garcia about the importance of genuinely understanding the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in every part of the travel industry and the impetus behind Mesa, Arizona, becoming the first autism-certified city in the United States. He also shares some of the creative collaborations the city is building with other organizations and the local community, including the advent of professional surfing in the desert and an amazing farm to fork trail.

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How Marc’s love of family and his native city led him to a starter job at the Phoenix CVB and how his career in destination marketing has progressed over the last 25 years
  • Initiatives that Marc has been involved in that have helped Mesa stand out from the crowd.
  • Why Marc was so keen to move away from Mesa CVB as a name and how they rebranded as Visit Mesa
  • The Visit Mesa Partnership Programme — why it’s so unique and how it delivers an awesome ROI for its members
  • How Mesa’s role in Arizona’s Fresh Foodie Trail® encourages visitors to the region to enjoy the farm to fork experience
  • Creative ways that Visit Mesa is approaching Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and how they are using the principles to make their destination an even more attractive place to visit
  • How Visit Mesa encouraged their partners, including the Chamber of Commerce, the city’s Parks Department, and three of the largest hotels in the area, to undertake the Certified Autism Travel Professional course
  • What Marc and his team are doing to celebrate National Autism Awareness Month in April, including a collaboration with local micro-breweries
  • Marc’s words of wisdom for getting community partners involved and engaged

Spearheading Collaborative Efforts

Marc and I had a fascinating discussion on the podcast about the collaborative efforts of Visit Mesa, the Chamber of Commerce, the Parks Department, and various neighborhood associations that have proved to be the bedrock of the destination’s marketing success. He shared some of the best practices for spearheading a similar community collaboration, including going into discussions with an open mind and open heart.

When you’re building partnerships, all the stakeholders will have different ideas about how the relationship might look and how it might evolve over time. Marc shares why it’s essential to acknowledge that and be deliberate about your plan at the outset, with clear presentation materials so people understand your overarching purpose.

Partnership Based Program

Many organizations run membership-style programs, while others prefer a partnership-based approach. Marc explains why Visit Mesa has chosen an agency-style partnership program with a pay-to-play model and a multi-tiered structure. Being a member allows businesses in the area to have greater access to the client base and a better ROI.

We also discuss some of the creative collaborations that Visit Mesa is involved with, including the Fresh Foodie Trail®, which is a large part of the destination’s brand and a strong differentiator, and the upcoming partnership with two microbreweries in downtown Mesa that celebrates National Autism Awareness Month this April.

An Autism-Friendly Destination

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is coming to the forefront of everyone in the travel and tourism industry’s mind, and Marc speaks to his personal passion for making Mesa a fun place to visit for all travelers. He shares why almost 5000 people in all parts of the industry have undertaken the Certified Autism Travel Professionals course and how the Mesa Regional Foundation for Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion is introducing high school students from Title One schools to career opportunities in the hospitality business.

Marc shared so much inspiration from his journey to making Mesa an autism-certified city, and listeners who are interested in starting a similar initiative in their own area are sure to find his candid advice helpful.


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