News / USA

San Francisco 'Ambassadors' Welcome Tourists

City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)
x
City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)
City ambassador Wayne Alexis helps a tourist find his way in San Francsico, California. (Photo courtesy Union Square BID)
Faiza Elmasry
When business owners in downtown San Francisco, California, wanted to make their neighborhood safer and more attractive to tourists, one of their first actions was to hire "city ambassadors.”  

Union Square is the heart of San Francisco. It's a vibrant shopping area with dozens of shops, restaurants, theaters, art galleries and hotels, around a large open plaza where visitors can stroll, meet friends and just enjoy the day. Ambassadors spend the day walking around the neighborhood, providing a friendly face and a helping hand.

“They are not security guards in the traditional sense," said Russ Keil, is one of more than 500 business owners who founded the city ambassador team almost 15 years ago. "They are really individuals who are out on the streets, essentially looking for problems but also greeting our visitors.”

And they make a good impression on visitors. Keil recalls a recent encounter with a group of Japanese businessmen who were considering renting retail space in the area.

“We were meeting on a very busy sidewalk," he said. "They were remarking about how clean the sidewalk was and there was no graffiti.  And at that point, one of the ambassadors came walking by and greeted me. This company from Japan was so surprised and said, 'Who was that?'  I said, ‘That’s Wayne, he's one of our ambassadors.’”

Wayne Alexis approaches people who look like they need help: whether they are tourists who can’t find their way or the city’s homeless who sleep on the sidewalks.  Every day, he patrols the 27-block area in his red sweater vest uniform, carrying maps for lost tourists and a cellphone with important numbers on speed dial.

“It’s something that I really get pleasure out of doing," Alexis said. "It also gives me an opportunity to exchange information with people.”

Alexis is one of eight city ambassadors, according to Karen Flood, spokesperson for the Union Square Business Improvement District.

“They welcome tourists," Flood said. "They give directions and inform people about the neighborhood. They serve as the eyes and ears for the police; they are not able to enforce, of course, that's the job of the police, but they do alert the police if there are individuals that are not following the rules and ordinances of the city. They help those in need in our neighborhood, the homeless, and direct them toward social services.”

That’s the part of his job Alexis likes best. He recalls working with a homeless man who continually refused any help.

“One day, he finally told me, ‘Hey man, I’m ready,’ so I connected him with the Homeless Outreach Team," Alexis said. "He went through a substance [abuse] program, took him to job counseling, providing the necessary tools to help him make that transition to better his life. One day he came and [was a] totally different guy than how he was when I met him on the street; he was clean, shaved. He got a job. I was happy for him. I feel good. It’s a very rewarding job.”

San Francisco is not the first city to form an ambassador team. The city modeled its program on a similar one in New York City. Flood says Union Square’s success has inspired other neighborhoods to follow its lead.

“When we started in 1999, we were the only business improvement district hiring these ambassadors," she said. "Now there are 12 other districts in San Francisco and four of them hire these ambassadors to serve the neighborhood. We'd love to see our program expand into other cities.”

Flood says the reason for the program’s success is no secret.  Behind the neat uniform and big smile is a welcoming attitude - and a great city.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs