MESA, ARIZ. – Nearly two years after Visit Mesa was named the first-ever destination marketing organization that completed autism certification with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), the award-winning DMO has now announced that every member of the Visit Mesa staff is a Certified Autism Travel Professional, a lengthier and more in-depth certification. In November 2019, Mesa, Arizona was named the first-ever Autism Certified City in the U.S. raising the profile of Arizona’s third-largest city to millions of individuals with autism and millions of annual travelers impacted by autism. With summer travel around the corner, Visit Mesa is reminding families of the benefits of safe travel while also sharing a message of hope as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, especially within Arizona.
“Our journey to educate the masses about the needs of the ASD community have really only just begun,” said Visit Mesa President and CEO Marc Garcia, who ignited the effort after his 7-year-old son’s autism diagnosis. “The travel industry took a beating this past year but the signals we’ve been waiting for are here and sentiment tells us that families are ready to travel safely again. In response, we are launching several targeted campaigns to remind those guests on the spectrum that they have a welcoming destination in Mesa ready to serve them on vacation.”
The nearly year-long effort behind the autism city designation was launched by Visit Mesa, and fully embraced by the City of Mesa leadership with Mesa Fire, Mesa Police, and Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce all having achieved official autism certification. The effort included nearly 65 businesses that participated in specialized autism training geared toward executives and front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and service the needs of ASD travelers from the planning stages of a vacation to when they arrive in the destination, and throughout their stay. Approximately 4,300 community members have completed or committed to the autism certification; the certification is good for two years.
Several Mesa hotels and businesses including Jake’s Unlimited, i.d.e.a. Museum, Arizona Museum of Natural History, Mesa Arts Center, Escape Rooms Mesa, Kind Hospitality Restaurants including Macayo’s, Barrio Brewing and select Panera locations have completed autism certification training and are now each deemed a Certified Autism Center by IBCCES. The complete list of Certified Autism Centers can be viewed here: AutismTravelAz.com.
“Visit Mesa is a national change agent in the travel industry. We have always been entrepreneurial and innovative in the ways we respond to the needs of our regional visitors. I’m proud to share that we are already embarking on a wider reaching initiative to ensure inclusivity for people with disabilities,” Garcia continued. “Our goal is to ensure all individuals and their families and friends enjoy a memorable vacation in Mesa, Ariz. Inclusivity matters deeply, and these efforts have been quickly embraced throughout our city.”
IBCCES’ comprehensive, evidence-based process includes educational trainings and knowledge assessments of common behaviors and sensory considerations associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some businesses also participated in IBCCES audits to further improve experiences for individuals with autism.
More than 32 million individuals with autism and their families travel each year, according to IBCCES’ data. More than $262 billion is spent on autism-related services in the U.S. each year, according to IBCCES. Autism affects a significant number of people as ASD is at a 600 percent increase year after year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Visit Mesa launched the dedicated website, AutismTravelAZ.com and families planning travel can use this as a comprehensive resource to learn more about Mesa’s autism certified partners. Travel planning support includes:
· Autism Travel Guide, a helpful travel planning resource featuring all Mesa-area Certified Autism Centers
· National awareness campaign featuring new advertising themes promoting ASD travel
· Dedicated online presence on AutismTravelAZ.com, a free online resource for parents
· Autism-friendly geo tour featuring Mesa Parks and Downtown Mesa museums
· Sensory guides for number Mesa parks and businesses available for download
· Online discount portal for travel specials: www.VisitMesaDeals.com
· Mesa Clean Stay initiative adopted by Mesa hotels ensuring safety protocols and cleaning standards are a priority
For almost 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism training for licensed healthcare professionals and educators around the globe. Florida-based IBCCES created training and certification programs after recognizing that many families with children who have special needs have limited travel options.
“IBCCES certifies organizations around the globe,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman. “Mesa, Ariz. stands out for the drive of its leaders and the commitment, passion and engagement of the business community. We’re proud to say that through this partnership and the IBCCES certification, individuals with autism or sensory sensitivities can feel confident they will have a positive experience in Mesa.”
Learn more about Visit Mesa and their mission to promote the value and vitality of Mesa’s visitor economy to create a better community at www.VisitMesa.com.