It's often pretty easy for residents to get used to and comfortable with the quirks of their own town. Tacoma's no different and I ran across one when a couple ladies asked me a question a couple days ago. Not all the quirks can be solved (cough! donor wall) but there certainly are ways to guide people to all the great attractions our city has to offer.
While Sarah and I were wrapping up our lunch hour downtown we both waited for our separate trains at the Union Station Link stop. Although I barely noticed them at first, two ladies carefully studied the route map for the Link. One finally approached and asked for some help. She said they were looking for some place with lots of little shops someone else recommended they visit. I figured they were aiming for Freighthouse Square so I told them which train and which stop to take. What really struck me, however, wasn't that I was surprised Freighthouse was a tourist destination but it was that these ladies were here to visit our wonderful museums but couldn't because it was Monday and they're all closed.
They said they drove all the way from Lynnwood (about 50 miles north, which is more if you consider the Seattle traffic they had to plow through) and had meant to stop by Tacoma for years. It's a shame they're greeted with only closed museums but even more a shame they didn't have anyone else to help give them ideas on other things to visit.
It would be great for the city or visitor's bureau to get together with some willing volunteers that could be "Ask Me" folks available around town. They could carry pamphlets, maps, and be mobile enough to walk someone far enough to truly help them where they're going. I'm not talking kiosks here but real people on the street with signs or bright shirts that say "Ask Me". Heck, if they don't want to carry pamphlets and maps buy a couple Segways and let them toot around on those. Whatever the case, the real Tacoma visitor's center is too far off the beaten path (do you even know where it is? yeah, bottom floor lobby of the downtown Marriott) to be useful for many folks.
"Ask Me" guides could wander around the Bridge of Glass letting folks know how to weave through the arch toward Pac Ave to get some food. They could be near the base of the 19th Street steps to help people know what's up the steps or where the Link can take them. There's plenty of opportunities and I think utilizing local resident's love and knowledge of this town would help add to the appeal of visiting. I'm sure it would've made those ladies from Lynnwood feel like they came down for a reason.
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