Experiences like walking from your favorite bar or restaurant to a sporting event or show and stopping along the way to snap a picture with street art or enjoy the shade of a newly planted tree are what bring people to a city center — and what keeps them coming back.
Part of what keeps people coming back to downtown Phoenix is the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors, a team of 24 individuals who is dedicated to creating a safe and welcoming environment for visitors, employees and residents of downtown Phoenix. If you have yet to encounter an ambassador, they’re not hard to find — just look for a man or woman donning a bright orange shirt and a pin inviting passersby to ask them questions, which range from inquiries about parking and directions to restaurant recommendations and advice on activities to do downtown. You can catch an ambassador between Third Avenue and Seventh Street and Jackson Street and Fillmore seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Guy Engard has been an ambassador since 2008, when he heard about the program from a former roommate. An Arizona native, Engard is a self-proclaimed people person and worked in retail before joining the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors. His outgoing personality, customer service skills and passion for helping people made him a strong candidate for the position.
“I loved helping customers; I just really loved helping people who came in with a problem and offering solutions. Oftentimes that meant selling them a product, but that’s not what I was about,” he says. “Helping people and getting their feedback on how much my insight helped them was really what I was after. Being able to just come out and be nice to people without really having to sell anything is a pretty good gig.”
In addition to assisting those who approach him with questions, Engard says he is committed to cheering up everyone who crosses his path, even if that means simply smiling at a stranger.
“It really seems to me that the energy that I put out is the energy that I get back,” he says. “I’ve definitely noticed that if I go out and I say hi to people and I’m not really excited, I’m not really putting my heart into it, then what I get back is not very good. But if I go out there and I’m high energy and really put my heart and my enthusiasm into it, I’ve seen it just wake people up that have a straight face, and then they carry out the energy that I put out there.”
Downtown residents are used to seeing Engard smiling on street corners and greeting guests, but tourists are often a bit wary of the ambassadors and the role they play in the promotion and progression of downtown Phoenix.
“Out-of-towners will look at me and I’ll say hi to them, and they’ll squint their eyes and look me up and down,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll just straight up ask me, ‘So what’s your deal? What do you do?’ So, then I’ll get to tell them what I do and offer my services however I can.”
According to Engard, other cities have ambassador programs but Phoenix, in addition to being one of the first, is the premier when it comes to hospitality.
“A lot of other cities have them, but they might be more geared toward security or parking enforcement or beautification of the streets, whereas hospitality is generally our primary focus,” Engard says.
According to Engard, becoming an ambassador includes extensive training, in the classroom and in the field. Ambassadors are given a training manual that includes policies, procedures and do’s and don’ts about different aspects of downtown. Trainees then shadow an ambassador to see how these protocols are applied in real time.
“I remember my first day; if the guy who was training me had just left me where I was, I probably wouldn’t have found my way back to the office,” Engard says with a sheepish chuckle. “The shadowing is so important. We take personality tests and even try and match up different ambassadors with similar personalities, so we can retain more employees and just learn more about each other as people.”
Engard says every day is different, but there’s certainly never a dull moment. Some days require him to roam around, while others entail standing near busy venues like Chase Field, Comerica Theatre or the convention center during shows and sporting events.
The ambassadors are also dedicated to revitalizing the lifestyle and landscape of downtown Phoenix and its inhabitants. They focus on small things that can make a big impact and improve the things that already make Phoenix unique, like planting more trees throughout crowded areas to add more shade and increase walkability.
“People have always complained about the heat in Phoenix and that’s a big thing. Our downtown, with the way it’s laid out, is still very walkable but we’re currently working on putting in even more shade trees than we already have,” Engard says.
Engard’s job requires him to constantly expect the unexpected. He’s gotten some pretty quirky questions over the years, including everything from the winning lottery numbers to the meaning of life. If an ambassador doesn’t know an answer to a question, they have a radio to communicate with someone from the ambassador headquarters, which is located at CityScape on Central Avenue and Washington Street.
“As long as this person’s willing to wait, we can find the right answer for them and if it’s going to take awhile, I can walk them back to our office, get them something cold to drink and they can sit down and work out the problem there,” Engard says. “It’s pretty rewarding in that regard. I feel like I’ve always got some recourse.”
At the end of the day, Engard says his job is about the growth of downtown and the people who live, work and play there, and improving their day-to-day lives.
“I’m big on being a better person and trying to teach everybody else to be kind and be better to everybody and that’s kind of what I do every day,” he says.
To reach the ambassadors, call 602.495.1500 or email email@example.com.