'The Wow Factor:' Visit Mesa Launches Autism Training

By Christina Estes
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2019 - 8:29pm
Updated: Sunday, April 21, 2019 - 8:33pm

Marc Garcia, president & CEO of Visit Mesa, stands in front of a photo of his son, Mason Garcia, who has autism.
Rick D'Elia
Marc Garcia, president and CEO of Visit Mesa, stands in front of a photo of his son, Mason Garcia, who has autism.

A father’s journey with autism is taking Mesa on a unique path. The city is on its way to becoming the first-ever autism certified travel destination in the country. 

As CEO of Visit Mesa, the city’s tourism organization, Marc Garcia is all about attracting visitors. He’s especially focused on people living with autism and other sensory needs.

“We certainly wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t because of my son who is five years old now, diagnosed at 14 months,” he said.

Garcia and his staff have been trained and certified through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).

“The feedback we received from many of those employees in our industry who’ve already gone through the training is it’s just been the wow factor,” he said. “Wow, I didn’t realize that that’s how someone on the autism spectrum sees the world. So, it’s pretty eye opening and so the next time that they experience that or see that, they’re going to have a better idea about how to respond.”

people sitting at tables and listening
Rick D'Elia
Mesa business leaders learn about the process to undergo autism training during an event at the Mesa Convention Center Center on April 16, 2019.

Over the next six months, Visit Mesa will work to get hotels, restaurants and entertainment centers certified. When 60 percent of Visit Mesa’s business partners are certified, Mesa will be able to call itself "autism certified" and launch a targeted advertising campaign.

“It’s geo targeted and it’s demographic targeted,” he said. “So, just like you see ads on your computer that you didn’t even know, it’s going to land on your site. They see it, they’re interested, they have a child that’s on the autism spectrum, they’re going to click this ad and they’re going to find out all about Mesa and all of our assets, the attractions.”

Among other things, Visit Mesa plans to create an autism travel guide which will include information about businesses that have been certified along with sensory information.

“There’ll be a sensory guide that’s listed, perhaps at the front door, so that an autism parent understands what their child may end up experiencing,” Garcia said. “And it doesn’t need to be a child, by the way, there’s also adults who live with autism. This is going to be servicing them as well.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about one in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism. The IBCCES estimates there are 53 million Americans with disabilities and more than 20 million families with autism worldwide.

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