The Big Bike Race™ is coming whether you have a work-from-home plan or not, so get all that grumbling about parking and street closures out of your system and learn how and why the success of the Worlds is up to you. Yes, YOU.
Let’s say a person planning to visit Richmond for the UCI Road World Championships, coming September 19-271 only knows that Richmond is about two hours away from Washington, DC. That person might do some research about Richmond, but that person (who we’ll call a dude) may also just plan the trip around the race and get the other details as he goes.
When he gets here, who will let him know where to go, where to eat, or what to drink? The city and UCI event organizers are in charge of making sure that the event goes as planned for the participants, but it’s the community who will make the difference between an out-of-town visitor seeing a local attraction and getting a meal nearby or retreating back to eat dinner from a Candlewood Suites vending machine and calling it a night.
Part of the official plan for the city’s Worlds preparation is to “enhance the visitor experience and encourage resident participation”(PDF). Residents becoming tour guides and advocates for the city will help with that.
Tamera Harris, Manager of Events and Sponsorships with Richmond Region Tourism, said that to help get ready for the Worlds, RRT’s I Am Tourism Ambassador Program is now offered monthly instead of quarterly. The free class was originally offered to front-line staff (such as hotels and convention services), though “because of the demand and need,” said Harris, “everyone is really an ambassador.” The class covers the importance of tourism in and around Richmond.
“I look at them as mini-concierges.” — Tamera Harris, Richmond Region Tourism
Typically, class participants work for local businesses, banks, hotels, hair salons, supermarkets, or are board members, jurisdictional members, or real estate representatives. Regular old individuals are encouraged to sign up, too.
“We do a wonderful overview of the top attractions of the region and those that are off the grid,” said Harris. The overview includes Henrico, Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover, and New Kent,” (all likely lodging options for Worlds visitors).
After this overview, the class then takes a one-and-a-half-hour bus tour, which travels to historical highlights including the James River, downtown locations, and the State Capitol. Those who complete the course are then placed on a mailing list to be alerted of events that require tourism ambassadors or other related networking events and mixers.
The goal of the program is to have “well-educated volunteers out on the street talking about the region,” said Harris. Once the volunteer understands more of a visitor’s perspective of the city, he or she is better able to talk about where to go and how to speak to all that’s involved in visiting the city and the surrounding area. “I look at them as mini-concierges.”
“For the past few months we’ve had an influx of volunteers interested in working with UCI,” Harris said, though the tourism ambassador training is separate from volunteer signup for the Worlds, and those who sign up to volunteer through the Richmond 2015 website choose from different opportunities that don’t require any regional knowledge.
Lee Kallman, VP of Marketing and Business Development with Richmond 2015, which manages the Worlds, said that the volunteer signup has been huge, with almost 2,700 individuals.
Director of Communications and Digital Marketing with Richmond 2015, Paul Shanks adds that “The lion’s share of those folks are local, but we have folks from more than 40 different countries who have signed up,” making it more of a global experience.
In addition to ambassadors (who are recommended but not required to have taken the tourism ambassador course, but need to have knowledge about the region), volunteers are also needed on the courses to ensure public and participant safety, to help with translation services, transportation, and working in the fan areas. A full list of volunteer categories, including duties and requirements, can be found here.
Volunteers know that signing up is one way to get up front during the race. Mary Barnett, a Richmonder who has volunteered at local events including Dominion Riverrock, Richmond Folk Festival, and the Anthem Richmond Marathon, has signed up as a volunteer during the Worlds.
As for why she volunteers, Barnett said via email, “I love knowing I can help support these amazingly cool events that happen around here. Of course it’s fun being up close in front of the action when that’s the kind of duty I draw.”
The Worlds’ volunteer slots have yet to be determined, and Barnett has requested to be on the course (she has previously done course marshaling for both runners and cyclists). To be on the course, “You have to be at least a little bit loud and brash to do a good job of that. The racers in particular aren’t focused on anything but the track in front of them, and it helps if you have the ability to spend three or four hours standing in the sun (or rain) while the race is happening,” Barnett said. However, she said she’s up for whatever she’s assigned.
“I’ll happily do anything to be a part of such a big deal and to show off my wonderful city,” she said.
Harris said that research has shown that most people visit Richmond because of friends and family. Someone coming to Richmond blindly will learn little about how to spend downtime from Richmond 2015’s About Richmond site page, which is the opposite of what most Richmonders would tell a friend about the city – the accolades for RVA are mostly older business-related items and geography related (such as, “A top 10 city for finding a job in 2009”).
“As we move into event mode, people will want more details about how to plan their trip,” Kallman said. The site will shift focus to more tourism-related information.
In addition to getting ambassadors on the ground during the event, Richmond is working with local business through Société 2015, a local business engagement program. More than 800 businesses have signed up for it already.
Kallman describes Société 2015 as “A way for businesses to be on the inside…to have the latest information.” There have been a series of events specifically for Société 2015 members, and the next one will focus on how to navigate during the Worlds so that businesses can start planning how to be involved.
“”It’s all about showcasing Richmond to the world.” — Lee Kallman, Richmond 2015
The plan is to “push visitors to find businesses, coffee shops, and bars that are bike-friendly,” Kallman said. “A big part of this initiative is about showcasing the region, and local businesses are certainly part of that.”
Harris said that, although each ambassador is given a visitor’s guide of top places, they aren’t required to recommend a specific place. Recommendations are mostly anecdotal based on the ambassador and the visitor’s needs and location.
“We’re hoping that the ambassadors will be working at the informational kiosks that will be at the fan and pep rally areas,” Harris said. Because a lot of the lodging needs will be met by the surrounding areas and not just Richmond, it’s important that there is regional representation to assist with visitors. “We hope that our jurisdictional partners will come in to town to volunteer and take the class . . . and get out and talk about the great places to go.”
Read the online comments to any local news article about the Worlds, and the typical responses are about the cost and inconvenience to those who live and work in Richmond, as well as a disbelief that the event can be pulled off (and the occasional pro-cycling citizen who looks forward to the event). Will the public perception of the event transform before September? One way to help it shift is to stop thinking about the Worlds as a bike race for people who like bike races, and instead see it as a city-wide celebration.
“The event is nine days long. Whether you’re a cycling fan or not, there’s a unique aspect to this event,” Kallman said. “It’s all about showcasing Richmond to the world.”
He adds, “There’s something for everybody here. We want everyone to embrace it, and part of that is keeping informed as we have details available.”
One of the events already scheduled that encourages public participation is Conquer the Cobbles, presented by Richmond 2015 and Sports Backers, which gives both runners (September 24th) and cyclists (September 25th) a chance to race on the Road Circuit Course.
“It’s going to be a really unique experience,” Shanks said about Conquer the Cobbles.
Richmond 2015 and Richmond Region Tourism have been working together since the planning for the race began on the travel program, overall promotion, and using the Worlds as an example of the active outdoor lifestyle in Richmond.
Said Kallman, “Ultimately, the success of this event is going to be because the community came together and made it happen.”
Those interested in signing up for the tourism ambassador classes can register online for June 3rd and July 21st classes (August 27th and September 10th classes will also be available, but not open for registration at this time). Registration is still open for volunteer opportunities for the Worlds.
- The championship race is officially known as the Worlds, though we call it The Big Bike Race™ because it’s funny to say out loud. Just don’t call it the UCI race. As Paul Shanks with the Richmond 2015 team explains, the Worlds is to the UCI like the Super Bowl is to the NFL. ↩
Enjoying our Big Bike Race™ coverage? Pointedly NOT enjoying it? RVANews Live (June 4th, 5:30 PM, Visual Arts Center) has a place for you, no matter what your mindset! One of our panels will focus entirely on the race and will feature representatives from Richmond 2015, the Mayor’s office, Sports Backers, and Venture Richmond. Come ask questions, make statements, listen intently, or doze off, we don’t care! Actually, we do. Don’t doze off. Rude. Tickets are $15, include a drink ticket, and are on sale currently.