What do a former airline employee, a college student and a well-traveled husband and wife have in common? They are all members of Tampa International Airport’s new Volunteer Ambassador Program.
The program kicks off this week with the opening of four Visitor Information Centers located in the airport’s baggage claim areas. The information booths are part of the airport’s $30 million Main Terminal Modernization project.
The Ambassadors will staff the booths seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
To date, more than 150 people have applied to the program and 90 have completed orientation and are ready to assist Tampa International Airport passengers from all around the world by answering questions, giving directions and providing information on Tampa Bay area attractions, amenities, hotels, restaurants and current events.
Katie Bellnier, a retiree who worked 23 years for Eastern Airlines, believes her experience in the aviation industry will help her as a Volunteer Ambassador.
“I saw the ad in the newspaper and I said ‘I’ve got to do that,’ ” Bellnier said. “I have patience and understanding, and have helped passengers in so many different situations. I know I can help.”
Many volunteers in the program speak a variety of languages, including Spanish, French and German, which provides a huge value to the airport’s international passengers.
Elisa Fleites, who is preparing to study Psychology, speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and English. The airport, she said, is a perfect fit for fulfilling her desire to volunteer.
“Where else can you interact with people from so many different countries and cultures?” Fleites said.
Kevin Gabriel, studying aviation maintenance, said it’s his love of the Tampa Bay area that brought him to the program.
“I love airplanes, traveling and being in Tampa Bay,” Gabriel said. “You drive 20 minutes one way and you’re at the beach, 20 minutes another and you’re at a theme park. There are so many things for people to do every day. It’s the best place to be.”
Stan Hafers, a retired postal inspector, said that he loves the airport and looks forward to meeting new people.
“I used to travel a lot for work,” Hafers said. “But travel has changed, and it’s difficult for some people. If I can help them and make their day better, that’s a good thing.”
Chris Minner, the airport’s Vice President of Marketing, described the airport volunteers as “an amazing group of people”
“They all have knowledge, experiences and talents that will benefit our guests and become a reflection of a region that wants visitors to feel welcome as soon as they arrive,” he said.
To prepare them for their new roles, Ambassadors participate in an orientation to learn about the airport and answers to common questions from arriving passengers. The local tourism agencies, Tampa Bay and Company and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, also briefed volunteers on points of interest around the region.
In exchange for their service, volunteers will be treated to “thank you” events and receive free airport parking year-round as long as they remain active in the program.
“All we ask for is a positive attitude and genuine interest in helping the customers,” said Kari Goetz, manager of the Volunteer Ambassador Program. “So many of our volunteers are travelers themselves and they have benefited from volunteers at other airports. It’s going to be great to see them return the favor.”
Those interested in joining the program can apply at www.tampaairport.com or call (813) 870-8759 for more information.