Everyone wonders what to expect the first time they come to the Sunshine Coast. Whether folks are coming for a day trip, a visit to family or relocating to the Coast, chances are good they're on the ferry and looking for someone to answer their questions.
That's where the travel ambassadors come in. Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce sponsors the group of 26 mostly-retired individuals who man the booth on the Queen of Surrey. Mary Frisch is one of their number.
Frisch has been guiding travellers for the past four years.
"I like people and I like my Sunshine Coast. I've been here a long time - 30 years," are the reasons the Gibsons woman gives for volunteering to help visitors.
All travel ambassadors receive one day of formal training from the Visitors Information Centre (VIC) in Gibsons. Then they go on familiarization tours of the Coast and the Powell River area. In the past, they've take the Princess Louisa cruise and checked various accommodations and campsites the Coast has to offer.
For Frisch, it means being constantly aware of her surroundings. She usually times herself on trips up the Sunshine Cost Highway so she's better able to help visitors reach their destinations.
The travel ambassadors are frequently asked for recommendations on where to stay. Frisch says they direct the traveller to the well-stocked racks on the ferry.
"We don't recommend any one place over another. We send them to the rack and tell them how to get there once they've picked their accommodation. We don't sponsor anyone," she explained.
On this particular Monday morning, traffic to the ambassadors' desk is light. And while the ferry is busy because high school students have the day off, most travellers have their destination already mapped out.
But it isn't always so.
"Sometimes [travellers] are nine deep and all we can do is pass out maps and point them in the direction of the racks," Frisch said.
The ambassadors perform a valuable service on the ferry - a fact that's not lost on B.C. Ferries. Recently the corporation budgeted for three TVs and VCRs to run a continuous promo tape of the Sunshine Coast on the Queen of Coquitlam.
Gerry Parker, manager of the Langdale terminal, is a huge fan of the ambassador program.
"The people involved are excellent and they are providing a top quality service. And the training, funding and participation from the community has been excellent," Parker said.
He went on to say that any time he's been on the ferry and heard the ambassadors providing advice he's been impressed.
"It's really meeting the needs of people who want to know about the Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast," Parker said.
Deborah Marshall from the B.C. Ferries head office echoes Parker's praise. She also credits Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce for their work on the program.
John Hayes is the member of the chamber who manages the travel ambassadors. He schedules the workload and fundraises to keep the program going. He spends between 10 and 12 hours each week on the program. "The community is really good. The Sunshine Coast Credit Union has been a major sponsor all along. The Coast Reporter, the Town of Gibsons, the VIC in Powell River all help," he said.
Hayes is pleased to have support from the Upper Sunshine Coast.
"About 35 per cent of people travelling on the ferry want to know how to get to Powell River and what to do when they get there," Hayes said.
Like many volunteers on the Sunshine Coast, the travel ambassadors are not the only cause Hayes and Frisch give their time to.
Hayes is a member of the Gibsons Rotary Club, in addition to the Chamber of Commerce. And Frisch, who taught in elementary school at one time, volunteers at Cedar Grove School.
Both of them are pleased with the success of the travel ambassador program. And both are quick to say how much the co-operation of the ferry workers means to them.
"B.C. Ferry people have been excellent to us. Gerry Parker will bend over backwards for us. People just make our job much easier," Frisch shared.
And while the program doesn't qualify for any money from B.C. Tourism because of their rigid regulations, travel ambassadors will keep on welcoming guests in top-notch fashion.
And unlike the Nanaimo ferry counsellors who will be paid for their work by the province, our ambassadors will continue to represent us in exchange for a yearly luncheon, two T-shirts, a jacket and a bag. As Parker stated, "It's a glowing example of volunteerism at its finest."