Not long ago, the leaders at Visit Mesa didn’t know if a tourism bureau could become fully certified for visitors on the autism spectrum. Now, Visit Mesa is the first DMO to receive official designation as a “Certified Autism Center.” And it has no intentions of stopping there.
Before the CVB had earned its certification—which came after 100 hours of specialized training so that the organizations staff and board members—Visit Mesa had already started drafting others in their community to follow suit. Today, the big-picture goal is for Mesa to become the first autism-certified tourist destination in the nation.
By April, prompted by Visit Mesa’s enthusiastic promotion of the idea, 150 local businesses had expressed an interest in becoming certified. At the time of this writing, 30 had either started the process or completed the training, which is administered by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
The response has been gratifying for leaders like Suzanne Keller, director of sports for Visit Mesa. She feels the more committed their community partners become to the vision, the more welcoming their city will become to families that are often nervous about finding destinations that will understand their challenges.
“As we started to do a little bit more research, we realized that the certification was not only something that we could do, but something that is encouraged by the autism community,” Keller says. “It’s happening a lot more quickly than even we expected.”
One of the first community organizations to join Visit Mesa in becoming certified, and a key partner in Keller’s efforts to attract athletic events to the area, is the Mesa Parks and Recreation Department, which held training for its nearly 500 employees. The Mesa Chamber of Commerce was one of the first community groups to complete the training. Others also on board include local hotels and museums.