Hop on the welcome wagon
You love Juneau. That’s why you live here. Sure, it has its grim, gray days that lead to scouring the Alaska Airlines website for a flight deal, but there are plenty of people who head to Juneau, mostly in the summer, to vacation in our very own home. When they disembark from that plane, ferry or cruise ship, they may have questions — do you have the answers?
Between 130 and 150 Juneau residents volunteer during the summer with JCVB to help about a million visitors find their way.
“Last year we had more than 160,000 visitors come through the visitor centers — and that’s probably low because the cruise ship terminal center wasn’t open yet,” Kelly Moore said. She’s enthusiastic that the new center will help them serve even more visitors.
Moore is going into her third season with JCVB as the Visitor Information Services Manager. She manages all the welcome centers — there are four — and the volunteers and small paid staff. The four visitor centers are the new one downtown where the cruise ships dock, the kiosk by the Downtown library, one in the Juneau International Airport and one at the ferry terminal. They also have on-board greeters who personally greet visitors as they are disembarking the ships.
Moore seems to fit the position well, she’s got a cheerful voice and you can hear the smile in it.
Summer calls for the most volunteers, though there is a need year-round at the airport.
“In the winter we have probably about 30-40 to staff the airport during the winter, the others are seasonal,” Moore said. She is looking for more volunteers for the summer, as some people inevitably retire or move. She didn’t seem to think she could have too many volunteers, and she can find a spot for even the busiest of people. The average, Moore said, is three hours a week, but anyone who can contribute at least six hours a month could join the ranks.
“The primary thing they do is they are a warm face, they greet people, welcome them to Juneau, provide information about what to see or do here — and it can be anything from ‘how to get to the glacier?’ to ‘where do I find my tour?’ to where’s the bathroom?’ and a lot of times they’ll get the same question over and over and over. They have to remember that even though this may be the hundredth time they’ve heard the question, it’s only the first time that person has asked it. We always have to respond as if we’ve never heard it before.”
Moore seems to fit the position well, she’s got a cheerful voice and you can hear the smile in it.”
“Last year we had more than 160,000 visitors come through the visitor centers — and that’s probably low because the cruise ship terminal center wasn’t open yet.” Moore said.
The visitor centers downtown are staffed from morning until night, but the ferry terminal and airport kiosks are staffed only during the times when flights or ferries are arriving. Shifts might last an hour to three.
“We try to be very flexible so volunteers can fit it in with their working lives and their personal lives and schedules. Generally I have a place for everyone. If they’re very enthusiastic about visitors and welcoming people to our community, I’ll have a place for them.”
Volunteering is a possibility for the young and busy as well as retirees. How young? Moore said volunteers should be at least 18, though she has younger volunteers accompanied by adults. Moore cited a star volunteer who happens to be a teenage boy — he volunteers with his grandmother.
Moore is excited about having more young, working adults as part of the core team, knowing that by the time they are retiring and have more time, they’ll be experienced and interested in committing more time and energy. “We have some volunteers who have been with us for 25 years. We have a lot of people who really care about greeting people and welcoming people to Juneau.” Moore said.
“There are a lot of fun perks to being a volunteer,” Moore said, her first goal is to offer volunteers a meaningful experience, something she has experience doing since age 17, but there are a number of reasons and perks involved.
Probably tied with “meaningful” for first is “fun.”
“If it’s not fun, people won’t do it. I want to make it fun! Fun’s good. I like fun.” Moore said animatedly.
“It’s just this really great experience of meeting new people.” Moore said, “You get to meet people from all over the world, which is really fun.”
Beyond the intangibles, there are some solid perks to volunteering, Moore pointed out.
“Tour companies and tourism companies are a part of our membership and we have companies that offer things we call familiarization tours, we call them fams, volunteers very often can participate in these fams at discounted or no fees in order to get the experience of what the visitor would experience so they can talk about it authentically.” Moore said. “For example, one of our helicopter companies might say, ‘yes, we’ll take volunteers, space available, up on top of the glacier and they can go dog mushing, because we want them to be able to speak about that.’”
The goal is that if the volunteers experience these fun activities, they’ll be able to genuinely respond when a visitor wants to know if dog mushing is worth it. And the volunteer can allay worries about whether the visitor should have brought ice cleats — don’t worry, they’ll outfit you.
“The same thing with whale watching or Tracy Arm... Glacier Gardens, we have (Mt. Roberts Tramway) — we have all these unique things, and of course we have the glacier,” Moore said, “A lot of times, when you live here, you don’t participate in these things, but as a volunteer you see it through the visitor eye, so it’s a whole new perspective, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Moore, recently returned from a training in visitor services, said Juneau has the largest tourism volunteer base in the West, and maybe all of the U.S. She said it speaks highly of our community. “Makes me more proud to be from Juneau.”
Of course, no conversation about volunteering with tourists in Juneau would be complete without a look at some of the seemingly sillier questions one might experience. Moore pointed out that most tourists are on vacation, “And their brains might be too,” maybe they aren’t thinking about it, and visitors may come from far reaches of the earth and may not know a great deal about Alaska. People come here from everywhere, she said it’s a “bucket list” location.
Some classics are “Do you take American money?” and “How far above sea level are we?” while out on the water — the answer might be, “Oh, about four or five feet.”
Sound fun? JCVB is looking for more volunteers.
Would-be volunteers should have at least six hours a month available to volunteer and should have an email address, because everything is trending digital — Moore does most communication via email, though volunteers can reach her by phone if they need to. Would-be volunteers should contact Moore no later than mid-may, but the earlier the better. Volunteers will get an orientation and training, they start in April and go through mid-may; the final training would have volunteers ready to go in June. Fresh faces will start out with seasoned volunteers and Moore said they do their best to keep staffed to accommodate the flow of traffic.
Hundreds of Juneau residents can’t be wrong — hop on the welcome wagon and volunteer.
Contact Moore at email@example.com and visit traveljuneau.com for more information about JCVB.