The Changing Environments and Responsibilities of Ambassadors
The world of urban place management is constantly changing, and our industry relies on evolution and collaboration to succeed. Every year, we look forward to the International Downtown Association’s (IDA) Annual Meeting to come together with our peers and work toward creating better public spaces.
The 69th Annual IDA Conference took place in early October, where many members of our Block by Block (BBB) management team attended, led sessions and connected with customers, potential customers and our many friends in the field.
John Koch, Central Division Vice President, and Aaron Perri, Vice President of Strategic Growth, led sessions focused on Ambassador operations. John presented on “The Changing Environment of the Ambassador,” and Aaron joined leaders from Visit Knoxville and Nashville Downtown Partnership (NDP) to panel “The Evolution of Ambassador Programs Since the Pandemic.”
The Changing Environment of the Ambassador
In the session titled “The Changing Environment of the Ambassador,” John discussed factors that influence the daily work of Ambassadors like wages, technology, mechanical equipment and other environmental elements.
John highlighted incentives BBB utilizes to attract and retain Ambassadors. He presented the Three “M’s” of Incentivizing Ambassadors: Motivational, Meaningful and Monetary Incentives.
Motivational incentives help Ambassadors feel the importance of their work as a vital resource to their community. According to John, these incentives can include “making Ambassadors part of the problem-solving process, including them in strategy conversations and inviting them to district events with the customer.”
Downtown Vision Inc. (DVI) is one of our operations that regularly uses motivational incentives. DVI provides tickets and allows time for the Ambassador Team to experience tourist destinations for fun, team-bonding experiences that help make them experts on what to recommend to visitors who come to the district. Recently, the team went to the Museum of Science and History where they explored a local attraction they may later recommend to a visitor while bonding as a team.
Continuing to make Ambassadors feel valued, BBB believes in providing meaningful incentives, like goody bags from district businesses, food truck lunches, or even gift cards for team members’ Thanksgiving dinners. Monthly, DVI community partners provide lunch or dinner to Ambassadors to show them that the community appreciates them and their work. Most recently, in mid-October, lunch was provided by First Baptist Church as the Team celebrated birthdays and Ambassador of the month.
Finally, of course, there are the monetary incentives. Beyond traditional wages or bonuses, through community partnerships in select areas, BBB has been able to provide unique benefits for our teams, like annual bus passes or the first and last month’s rent for an Ambassador living in the areas we serve.
Ensuring your team is happy is essential to retaining high-value employees. By providing incentives like these, Ambassadors feel valued and appreciated. An employee who feels valued and appreciated is an employee who is likely to stay.
Evolution of Ambassador Programs Since the Pandemic
Derreck Hughes, Vice President of Operations, moderated Aaron’s session on the changes in service operations since the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. As the pandemic changed the local landscape of districts, new ideas were necessary to keep districts not just afloat but also thriving when there were noticeably fewer workers and tourists in the district.
During the session, Derreck discussed sourcing new sponsors, unique partnerships and collaborators to expand and deploy street-level services. This is a concept we have seen activated in Knoxville and Nashville, providing funds needed to implement BBB-operated Ambassador Programs to enhance public perceptions that encourage users to return to the districts.
Downtown Knoxville, K-Town Connect
Kim Bumpas, Visit Knoxville President, was essential to establishing the K-Town Connect Program. This program was created with the goal of enhancing Downtown Knoxville’s visitor and tourist experience while making it the place to host conventions. She was able to not only secure financing from the Convention and Visitors Bureau but also from both the City and County to fully fund the program.
The K-Town Connect Ambassador Program launched in May 2022, providing highly visible hospitality and quality of life services in Downtown Knoxville. After a year of successful service delivery, further interest was garnered, and the University of Tennessee (UT) signed on as a sponsoring agent. This additional sponsorship expanded K-Town Connect onto Cumberland Avenue, a main commercial thoroughfare on UT’s campus.
Nashville Downtown Partnership
Tom Turner, NDP President, introduced two ways his organization sought expanded funding for Clean and Safe Services in Downtown Nashville – one of the Nation’s fastest-growing cities.
NDP uses the Business Development Fund (BDF) which applies a 0.25% sales tax on certain goods and services sold within the downtown central business district. The BDF funds initiatives that enhance cleaning and public safety in the district. Since its launch, the BDF tax has enabled NDP to expand Clean and Safe Services and fund special security and traffic management detail within the downtown.
Through a collaborative sponsoring effort with the Music City Center, NDP has further expanded Clean and Safe Services to Lower Broadway and areas immediately adjacent to the convention center, locations that have seen a rapid influx of new development.
Innovative efforts like these can increase a district’s presence while also deepening a connection with and increasing relevance within the heart of the community.
Block by Block
For BBB, diversifying funding partners and expanding services into other realms outside of traditional place management boundaries will be key to maintaining vibrant, clean and safe streets into the future. BBB deploys a variety of programs across the country, including the expansion of Ambassador services to public sectors like parks and transit systems. We’ve also seen an increased interest in city-wide programs like those we operate in Louisville and San Francisco where services are not exclusive to one specific district boundary.
“Ambassadors are being utilized in other city segments outside of traditional downtowns,” Aaron said. “Parks and recreation agencies, public transit systems, visitors’ bureaus and even college campuses are all finding new ways to deploy Ambassador Programs.”
With more than 30 years of providing unique Ambassador programs for customers across the country, BBB has the experience and knowledge it takes to create one-of-a-kind, tailor-made service deployment programs that meet and exceed the changing needs of our cities.
We’ve seen a trend in many epicenters across the country where their needs have drastically changed over the last three years. As such, our Ambassador Programs have adapted.
For organizations like San Francisco (SF) Travel, which focuses on maximizing tourism and user experience in the city, recovering after COVID meant emphasizing hospitality. BBB launched the SF Travel Welcome Ambassador Program in the fall of 2021.
Welcome Ambassadors are experts on all things San Francisco. They’ve been known to answer questions in a variety of languages for non-English speaking tourists, snap photos of families from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and even show the way to destinations by hopping on trolleys with direction-seeking tourists for that exceptional hospitality experience.
We often receive praise from tourists about their great experiences with our SF Travel team, like this praise from Shivangi P:
“Ambassador Emily at Ghirardelli Square not only went out of her way to drop us off at the cable car station, but she also went above and beyond to give us recommendations for other interesting places to visit during the rest of our stay in SF. I wanted to appreciate her for her help and thank you for setting up posts throughout the city to help us tourists!”
BBB also services parks and recreation agencies, like the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park in Boston, MA. Greenway Ambassadors provide traditional cleaning, landscaping and snow removal services, but they also staff the park’s unique Trillium Beer Garden and Carousel amenities. Who knew operating a carousel could be an Ambassador job?
Our Ambassador services are flexible and cater to meet program demands, even as they change over time. Another non-traditional partnership that has expanded the realm of Ambassador programming is our partnership with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which began in 2017.
MBTA Transit Ambassadors are stationed throughout the transit system to help travelers with directions, ticket purchasing and real-time travel information. These friendly team members also help operations during special events, system outages and service disruptions, ensuring the best possible service to MBTA customers during what can be stressful situations.
BBB is excited for the future of Ambassadors services as it continues to evolve and expand into new and unchartered territory. If you think expanded Ambassador services could benefit you or your stakeholders, please contact Aaron today! (firstname.lastname@example.org)