Be Our Guest!
The iconic Mound House is Estero Island’s oldest standing structure. Now owned by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and restored to its 1921 grandeur, it opened to the public on November 14, 2015, as a cultural and environmental learning center. The Mound House is a walk through time, from where the Calusa Indians first set foot on the property, through today, where it caters to Town residents as well as snowbirds and tourists. To improve that mission, a member of its core staff recently received two accreditations to enhance its guest services philosophy.
Dexter Norris, Mound House Environmental Coordinator, recently earned his Interpretive Guide certification from the National Association for Interpretation, and on Thursday, October 12, received his Guest Services certification from the Tourism Development Council (TDC) and the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB).
“The TDC’s ‘Guest Services’ program wasn’t just something that lasted an hour or two, but was a seven-course forum,” explained Dexter, who joined the Mound House in November 2016, after stints with J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, then The Naples Zoo. “You receive extensive training in the guest experience, and how to evaluate your services. You must be an active participant in the classes, rather than just sitting back listening to the lecturers.”
His classmates represented large and small local hotels, area museums and tourist destinations. “The VCB set us up with first-class instructors, with plenty of opportunities to chime in with your opinion, and to speak with and learning from others, so you constantly picked up something new. Customer service applies to anyone anywhere, so this is a great asset personally and professionally.”
Earlier this summer, Dexter attained his Interpretive Guide certification from the National Association for Interpretation. “This was a four-day intensive training session in June at The Tampa Aquarium. It sharpens your everyday skills to produce a better, higher-quality visitor service, as well as providing training to our volunteer force. We have wonderful volunteers who are a great asset and are always looking to learn and do more, and you never want to waste or take that resource for granted.”
Raise The Bar!
As for how his certifications will benefit the Mound House, “they raise the bar,” explained Dexter! “These have no limits, since I can pass this along to our staff and volunteers. It informs visitors and other professionals that we are a serious organization that delivers topnotch customer service, whether it is the person who takes your telephone reservation, or on a boat or kayak tour, or any of our over 50 monthly programs and tours, so this transfers to anything and everything we do as an entity. I spent a lot of time this summer improving my skills, as all the staff here takes that seriously and works hard to improve, so I am personally very passionate about that, and grateful the Mound House encourages and allows me to enhance what I hope was already a positive skill set for the benefit of the entire community.”
“I always want to ensure that, while we are a quality tourism destination, our emphasis is our appeal to our year-round local residents,” explained Director of Cultural Resources and Mound House Museum Director Alison Giesen. “We constantly improve our year-round programs for our residents, and Dexter receiving these accreditations allows us to continue to make progress in that mission, so this is a big deal. This helps the Mound House to develop one style – one voice, if you will – to engage our staff, volunteers and guests, without lecturing to them or pounding them over their heads with history, but in subtly getting across our key points in a fun and engaging manner. We are proud of him because he worked so hard!”
Alison explained that the Mound House “reaches a broad audience, with visitors from across the street to across the planet. We recently interacted with folks from Germany and Dubai, and those families could not say enough positive things about the Mound House in their Trip Advisor online reviews that many people read when making their travel plans. At the same time, we offer community input and activities to satisfy our residents, and these types of training allow us to refine that message. The only thing all our visitors have in common, at the end of the day, is the diversity of their backgrounds.”
More Questions Than Answers
When looking back on his first year with the Mound House, Dexter calls it “a heck of a ride! It is a good and awesome adventure, where literally every new day brings an interesting and really enjoyable experience, where you do something different every day. I interact with people from all over the world, and that is the most appealing thing. Plus, as the Mound House is getting ready to celebrate its 2nd anniversary of opening to the public, it is a terrific sense of accomplishment to be able to point to a project or program or improvement and say, ‘I had a hand in that,’ whether it was something I came up with or accomplished as part of the team. Watching how much the Mound House achieved in the past year is truly a good feeling.”
“It is exciting,” added Alison! “Our programming impacts everyone from preschoolers to seniors, and now we interact with scouts and American Heritage Girls and homeschoolers and the local YMCA, along with many schools from Lee and Collier Counties, as well as repeat visitors who are a large percentage of our guests.”
In addressing the Mound House anniversary, “I am happy where we are right now,” said Alison. “We are meeting our long-term goals, and guests now seem to leave with more questions than when they arrive, and that is a good thing! It is not great to try to pound into them everything in one visit, as it is too overwhelming and quite frankly would probably be too boring. We engage them, to get their wheels turning, so they have conversations in the museum or look us up online or return for another visit or program. If they do that, rather than being able to pass a Ph.D. exam on the Mound House, we are achieving our goals – we plant the seed, then work on the harvest!”
Mound House admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free. Fort Myers Beach residents receive a 50% discount with proof of residence, and access to the dog-friendly grounds is free. It is open May through December Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and January through April from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Mound House is at 451 Connecticut Street, with additional parking at 216 Connecticut. For information call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.
“We come up with more educational and fun stuff all the time,” Alison said, “including partnering with local businesses. It is rewarding to collaborate with them, to produce a better product and experience, so that is truly exciting. Stay tuned for more to come, as we are just getting started!”