Chamber of Commerce, SSA offer info service
Beginning on Saturday, riders leaving Woods Hole on the Island Home or the Martha's Vineyard will encounter new additions to the ferry experience. Trained representatives of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce (MVCC) and the Steamship Authority (SSA) will answer questions and point out resources to first-time visitors or to anyone who needs assistance. The friendly helpers will carry SSA identification and wear polo shirts labeled "Ambassadors," the name of the new program.
Marc Hanover, SSA representative from the Vineyard, and Nancy Gardella, executive director of the MVCC, told The Times that the Ambassadors will improve newcomers' experiences by handing out maps and providing information about buses, bike rentals, taxis, lodging, restaurants, tours, and the like. Visitors will be directed to the MVCC booth for further details. Mr. Hanover, the owner of Linda Jean's Restaurant in Oak Bluffs, said that he has observed similar helpful volunteers at ski resorts, where volunteers get free skiing in return for helping others, and proposed a similar program for the ferries.
Mr. Hanover and Ms. Gardella said that the Ambassadors will make use of various publications targeting visitors, including the Vineyard Visitor, distributed free on the ferries by The Times, which contains maps and other features. The Ambassadors are expected to have other materials to distribute, such as VTA bus schedules.
On the return trip to the mainland, Ambassadors will ask tourists to fill out a one-page questionnaire soliciting information about the "best" and "worst" parts of SSA travel and of their experiences on Martha's Vineyard.
According to Mr. Hanover, the information retrieved from the questionnaires will be vital to both the SSA and the MVCC. "We haven't a clue, "Mr. Hanover said, "about the tourists who ride the ferries. We don't know where they come from, what they need, or how they feel about the whole trip." The questionnaires will be tabulated by students of the Zammer Hospitality Institute at Cape Cod Community College (CCCC), who will also intern as Ambassadors.
The students from the Zammer Institute will earn college credit for their internship on the ferries and for processing the questionnaires, but they will make up only a small percentage of the Ambassadors. According to Kimberly McHugh, SSA marketing director, the rest will be volunteers, either from the Cape of from the Vineyard, who enjoy helping others. Many may be recent retirees looking for a pleasant way to spend time. As of Monday, seven had already signed up, and the MVCC and SSA are actively looking for more.
There will free training sessions at the SSA Vineyard Haven terminal on Saturday from 2 to 3 pm and from 4:30 to 5:30 pm for anyone interested in becoming an Ambassador. All are welcome.
There will be some perks. In addition to the free boat rides and an Ambassadors polo shirt, Ms. McHugh says that the volunteers will get meal vouchers so that they can eat free on their shift. At the end of the summer, Ambassadors will each get four round-trip passenger tickets to either island, and there will be a drawing for a getaway weekend in the Berkshires for one lucky Ambassador, compliments of Ms. Gardella and the MVCC.
Ms. McHugh reports that the MVCC and the SSA will divide the expenses of the program.
This year's Ambassadors project is not the first time the SSA has offered such a service. Bridget Tobin, now manager of the Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs terminals, rode the ferries as an Ambassador from 1978 to 1980. Ms. Tobin had worked in the reservations office and then in customer service. In 1978, she realized that there was a need for a customer service representative aboard the ferries. "It was probably one of my funnest jobs," she says. "I loved helping people."
When Mr. Hanover proposed such a program this spring, Ms. Tobin was quick to support the idea.
Today, Ms. Tobin still helps people. She has a reputation on the Island as the person to call when a funeral or a sudden medical emergency comes up and there are no car reservations. "When you live on an island," she says, "you have to help each other."
Perhaps some young person who volunteers to be an Ambassador this summer will one day wind up running the SSA.
For more information on the Ambassador program, call Ms. McHugh at 508-693-9139, ext. 306, or the Chamber at 508-693-0085.