The Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce is looking for more ambassadors willing to don the coveted yellow jackets this summer and promote the region’s attributes.
The ambassadors’ program began four years ago as a chamber of commerce initiative. The idea was to enlist an army of volunteers to look after a kiosk in Cathedral Grove, encouraging tourists to stop in at the visitors’ centre in Port Alberni.
Dewayne Parfitt, who was chamber president at the time, helped put together the first ambassadors’ program. He, chamber manager Mike Carter and volunteer co-ordinator Gerry Fagan organized the team and clothed them in bright yellow jackets with large black question marks on the back.
The team was dubbed the “yellow jackets”, and the name has stuck.
The jackets “work really well,” says Carter. “They attract people and make people want to ask questions.”
Experienced yellow jackets were out in force last Thursday to greet the MV Statendam, Holland America’s cruise ship that anchored in the Alberni Inlet for a day’s stop.
An orientation meeting for new and returning ambassadors takes place this Friday, May 27, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the new visitor’s centre at the intersection of Highway 4 and Redford Extension. Staff from BC Parks will be there to talk about Cathedral Grove, and Mike Surrell from Lady Rose Marine Services will be on hand to discuss the MV Frances Barkley and its summer trips to Bamfield and Ucluelet. Yvette Carter will give a rundown on the visitors’ centre itself.
Fagan is hoping to sign up 60 ambassadors this year, a dozen more than 2010. “We’ve lost some this year for various reasons,” he said. “We’ve got five or six new ones so far this year. We’re still looking for more.”
Ambassadors are typically people who have lived in the Valley for awhile and have some knowledge about the area. Although many members are retired, the only requirement to be an ambassador is that they prospective volunteers have to be at least 18 years old.
The ambassadors’ season really kicks off on Saturday, May 28 with the first of many field trips, this one a boat ride aboard the MV Frances Barkley to Bamfield and back. Ambassadors are asked to be at the dock no later than 7:45 a.m., and to please RSVP to Fagan at 250-723-8793.
The ship ride is just one of the many familiarization (“fam”) tours that ambassadors will experience this summer, Fagan said. Other trips will include lunch at Chances Rimrock Gaming Centre, a ride aboard the steam train and a tour of McLean Mill.
Ambassadors typically work a single three-hour shift once a week, but there is no minimum and no maximum shift requirement.
Surrell will again welcome a pair of ambassadors aboard ship in July and August. Those particular shifts are eight hours return on Bamfield runs and 11 hours return on Ucluelet runs, Fagan noted.
“Some people love to do that. It works out really well because most of the people on the ship are from out of town,” he said. The ambassadors have a captive audience for passing on information about Alberni Valley tourist attractions and activities, and many passengers decide to spend extra time in the region once they find out everything there is to do.
Beginning the first week of June, ambassadors will man a kiosk in the parking lot at Cathedral Grove from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. New this year will be shifts in the visitors’ centre.
“We’re not sure how busy we’re going to get at the visitors’ centre,” chamber of commerce manager Mike Carter said. The new centre just opened last month, and has slowly become operational.
“We think we’ll be crazy busy.”
Others have also suggested positioning ambassadors at Harbour Quay, perhaps on Saturdays, but so far that’s just a suggestion, Carter added.
Last year the chamber saw 50,000 come through the old, cramped visitors’ centre. Carter expects “close to 100,000 this year.”
Those burgeoning numbers he attributes in part to the ambassadors at the Grove, who direct tourists to the visitors’ centre. “We appreciate everything they do,” Carter said. “It’s made a big difference in our numbers here. As soon as they go on daily at the Grove, our numbers here spike.”