Punch cards distributed to front-line staffers so they can visit Hannibal tourism attractions.

Thousands of visitors converged on Hannibal last weekend for National Tom Sawyer Days. Chances are that when they weren't splashing around in mud, throwing whitewash on a fence or running (walking) to the top of Lover's Leap they were busy being a tourist. Thanks to a new program launched this spring, guests didn't have to walk in at the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau (HCVB) to find someone with knowledgable of the community's attractions.

Punch cards were distributed to the “front-line staff” - the people most likely to be asked tourism attraction-related questions – at hotels and some retail stores, convenience stores and restaurants.

According to Gail Bryant, director of the HCVB, the intent is to allow these individuals to go to the participating attractions and “experience them so they can share it with visitors and give directions.”

“This allows them first-hand experience to better serve visitors who ask for directions and the person’s thoughts on attractions,” added Megan Rapp, HCVB assistant director.

“It's a real good idea, it absolutely is,” said Mike O'Cheltree, a member of the HCVB Board during that group's May meeting. “I can't see that it wouldn't help business.

“We all know what it's like to go into a little town, I don't care where you're at, and ask somebody in a convenience store how to get some place or even where they are, and they say, 'I don't know.' It happens all the time.”

Reaction to the program has been positive.

“A lot of businesses have called and asked for more (punch cards) to give to all their employees,” reported Bryant at the May HCVB meeting. “We've had a great response. We're excited about this program.”

The punch-card program is a new venture on the Hannibal tourism scene.

“The idea came from one of our partners,” said Rapp. “Years ago, the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau did a ‘mini-tour day’ to give front-line staff a taste of the different things to see and do in Hannibal. However with staffing, places open 24 hours, places that are family-owned and would not be able to send all of their staff at one time, etc., this was an alternative we came up with so that employees can go during a time that works best for them.”

According to Rapp, the punch cards provide access to nine major attractions in Hannibal – The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum Properties (which is free to Hannibal residents, but many Hannibal workers live in surrounding towns), Haunted Hannibal Ghost Tours, Karlocks Kars and Pop Culture, Jim Waddell as Mark Twain Live, one-hour sightseeing cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat, Hannibal Trolley Company Tour, Rockcliffe Mansion, Mark Twain Cave, and Richard Garey’s Mark Twain Himself.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com