The wristband was teal and marked with the date March 24, 2009. It was my ticket on the ferry that would take me 8.5 miles from Fernandina Beach, FL through the Amelia River, Cumberland Sound and St. Mary's River to the quaint little town of St. Mary's, GA. No wristband and I was swimming back.
The wristband was also a signal to the people of St. Mary's that I was a visitor in their midst. A signal that I had paid money to visit them and see what their town had to offer.
And from the moment my family stepped on shore, the signal was being read loud and clear. Strangers on the street welcomed us to town. One person in a city uniform showed us a baby owl nest in a nearby tree. Another out walking his dog suggested restaurants and other attractions. Every shopkeeper offered a nugget or two of history and a favorite spot to eat. And when we strolled into the visitors center to see about upcoming tours, they decided right there on the spot to do a private tour just for the six of us plus the dog.
I pulled out my wallet expecting to pay the premium to load the family onto their 8-person golf cart for our own private tour only to find that because of my wristband I got the friends and family rate. $26 later we had the lady running the center giving us a history of St. Mary's that you wouldn't find in a book, plus a tour of all the restaurants that were dog-friendly.
Other than an incredible history, St. Mary's didn't offer much. A few B&B's, some nice restaurants, a couple of quaint shops (one of our ferry mates came to buy her prom dress there), and a beautiful tree-lined avenue make up this southern-most Georgian port.
But I will remember it as one of the friendliest towns I have ever visited. I tipped the tour guide, the ferry driver, and the waitress more than I imagined for making me and my family feel so special.
Obviously, someone got the message. And they spread the message to the entire town. Visitors should feel welcome.
Does your town make visitors feel welcome? Does your business make visitors feel welcome? Does your staff have a list of restaurants they recommend? A list of hotspots to visit? A list of favorite things to do or see? A little bit of history?
Does your community have any type of ambassador training to teach all locals how to welcome the visitors, the ones who paid to come see you? If not, you should start one. If St. Mary's, GA can do it, so can you.