Visitor Center (VVV) guide, traffic marshal, bicycle coach, and expert on coronavirus rules
For the past three months, tourists in Maastricht's city centre have been welcomed by the hospitality guides in red – usually on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. They tell everyone about the new rules of conduct for #Safelynavigatingthecity: keep right on the streets, keep 1.5-metres distance from others, and avoid crowds. They also answer many questions, such as: Where are the best shops and terraces? Which streets are less crowded? Where can I park my bicycle? Where can I go to the toilet? May I have a map? Where is the Visitor Center Maastricht?
They offer tourists and newcomers booklets containing tips and fun facts, provided by Maastricht Marketing. Where necessary (depending on the area), these hospitality guides ask cyclists to get off their bikes and walk through the area. They know exactly which bicycle-parking facilities are open and where extra bicycle racks have been placed.
A warm welcome
They've got a tough job! That's why they receive an in-depth briefing and even the occasional training session before they start their working day. Jelle Ummels, a city centre project leader at Maastricht Bereikbaar, coordinates the team of Hospitality Guides. ‘It is difficult to find a balance between what's good for the economy and public health. We want to accommodate tourists, businesses, and residents! On a regular basis, we speak to businesses about how we can best manage the visitor flows. The hospitality guides provide a warm welcome to the city. People are better at keeping 1.5-metres distance after a personal conversation. In both rain and sunshine, our hospitality guides act as Visitor Center (VVV) guides, traffic marshals, bicycle coaches, and experts on coronavirus rules – all at the same time. They enjoy every minute of this work! In spite of the coronavirus measures, Maastricht continues to show its most visitor-friendly side.’
Responses from visitors
‘It was mostly residents who had to get used to the new rules and mandatory walking routes within their own city. Of course we understand this, because the routes they always used to take (as well as shortcuts) changed overnight. Tourists are happy that we give them information. Within the last few weeks, we have noticed that both residents and tourists appreciate our efforts and the new situation in the city. They prefer to take others into account instead of running the risk that some street, or even the entire city centre might be put into lockdown,’ explains Lars Michiels. Lars has been a hospitality guide since the start. Currently, he is also taking on tasks related to coordination.
‘We sometimes receive negative responses, which we take as an opportunity to explain what we are doing and why. Many people are able to express their frustrations during these conversations. We've also noticed that tourists regularly point out the rules to one another. Ultimately, it depends on the people.’
‘Businesses are usually very friendly to us. Their main concern is contributing to how to make the city as safe as possible. We regularly engage with a range of businesses to ask how their business is faring and what things they are noticing. Sometimes, we even get offered a snack or refreshment. That helps to keep us going, especially when the weather is unbearably hot.’
The group consists of around twenty young people who are employed by Eventief, an organization that specializes in live communication.
The Municipality of Maastricht, Maastricht Marketing, Centrum Management Maastricht, and Maastricht Bereikbaar are collaborating on the implementation of the Safely Navigating the City (Veilig Rondje Stad) programme as well as on the deployment of the hospitality guides. Currently, the plan is to continue to work with a team of Hospitality Guides until 1 September. The partners will then jointly assess whether the Hospitality Guides will be used in the city after this date.
Read our tips for Safely Navigating the City on www.maastrichtbereikbaar.nl