LeVandreth “Cap” Williams wasn’t doing much but playing cards and checkers at the senior center when he decided to sign up for volunteer work with AmeriCorps, which is where the announcement caught his eye. The city was looking for volunteer ambassadors to the thousands of visitors, foreign and domestic, coming to town this month for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships.
As it happens, Cap, 64, retired meter reader, shipyard worker and television cameraman, also had some experience in the tourism ambassador line of work.
“I was an ambassador when the Redskins first came here, and I did that for two years and I enjoyed that, I really did,” he says.
He also volunteered at last year’s CapTech USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships. But neither of these compare in his mind to being an official ambassador — the friendly, informed booster of all things Richmond — during the Worlds. You don’t have to be a bicycling fan to know opportunity when it pedals past.
“The races haven’t been here but one time before, one time, in the U.S., so you know, a person who doesn’t take the opportunity to do this now will never have the opportunity in their lifetime again,” he says.
“You know, I got a bicycle and I ride it a little, and I like it and everything, but you got people from all over the world coming here — London, England, and France and Germany — and you get to meet all types of cultures. Here’s a chance to help your city to make this a good event.”
Perhaps you are thinking that Cap is simply an exuberant sort, that born-and-raised Richmonder who knows his city and its flaws, but sees within it greatness that deserves to be highlighted for first-time visitors. You should know he is not alone.
If you ventured into the convention center in mid-July, you would have found Cap and about 45 other people, all seeking to become official Richmond Region Tourism “I Am Tourism” ambassadors. They’ll staff information kiosks across the race routes.
The half-day classes preceded the Worlds, and they will continue long after the race departs because this is a city full of events in need of volunteer ambassadors. But there is no denying that the competition has stirred the latent booster within. The classes have been packed. Four hundred people have gone through the training so far this year.
Old, young, black, white, Latino, Asian, retirees, salon owners, hotel staff, taxi company owners, government workers — you name it, they’re here. They come from across the region, which Richmond Region Tourism defines as the city of Richmond plus Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover and New Kent counties.
Future ambassadors create fictional itineraries for Richmond region visitors during the July 21 training. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
“I really love Richmond, and I think people should know how cool it is, so it will grow a little bigger,” says Brian Beard, owner of River City Food Tours, who is among those in the July class.
Jonathan Trainum, co-owner of Napoleon Taxi, made sure his whole management team became I Am Tourism ambassadors. “What people like to do in the city and why they come is always changing, so we need to keep our finger on the pulse. Cities adapt. We’re growing in some places and shrinking in others, and the demographics are changing.”
Trainum is on to something. This becomes clear during the late-morning guided bus tour through the city, during the odes to food and beer and wineries and river rapids and shopping and music and festivals. It becomes clear during the recitation of statistics: 7 million regional visitors annually, who spend $2.09 billion; top three draws between December 2014 and June 2015 were Richmond National Battlefield Park, VMFA and Henricus Historical Park; 43 percent of visitors return in the same year.
“We are tourism, that’s all of us in this room, right?” Tamera Wilkins Harris, Richmond Region Tourism’s manager of events and sponsorship, tells the room. “We are all impacted by tourism. And as we get ready for the bike races, we know you guys will be going along and helping us spread the word about what this Richmond region can do.”
Should that point be missed, no one leaves without an official pom-pom.
Here’s the thing: A city is not just a place, but a process, an ongoing reinvention, just as the meeting between tourist and local is more than a transaction. It is a courtship and ambassador Cap Williams comes to it wearing the city on his sleeve.
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