LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A volunteer program in Lee County is not only saving us all money, but it's helping to bring in the money as well!
We spoke to international airports throughout the state. When it comes to being able to communicate with travelers who don't speak English, most have staff members that are multilingual and rely heavily on volunteers. But we found that some airports have to spend money to pick up the slack.
The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport has volunteers, but it also foots the bill for a language hot line. The Orlando International Airport has no volunteers at all. It's committed to spending more than $400,000 over the next three years to hire bilingual staff.
Here in Southwest Florida, we don't have to spend a dime to make sure visitors get the information they need in their own language. And it's that kind of service that often leads to another visit, essentially bringing in more money to our area.
Volunteers like Annamarie Gehm are on hand every time an Air Berlin flight touches down at RSW. According to Visitor Services Coordinator, Siggy McIntyre, it's the volunteers that keep the tourists coming back.
"It's very accommodating to them. They feel like they've been taken in as a friend and helped along," she told us.
Siggy, a native German, has been working with the Visitor and Convention Bureau, or VCB, and the airport for ten years. She helps to oversee the 121 volunteer Tourism Ambassadors that staff the five visitor information booths seven days a week.
And if a traveler speaks a language that the volunteers on hand don't speak, she's not too worried.
"I have a list in my hand right here where we have within the community all those who speak all kinds of languages. Anything in the world, actually," said Siggy.
If that fails to do the trick, Siggy told us, "...we still have hand and feet and paper and crayons and it works. We get people where they need to go."
Thanks to technology they also have another weapon: an i-Pad translation app.
The list of languages spoken by people across Southwest Florida is extensive and like Siggy said, if they need to, they can pick up the phone and call those volunteers for help.
The airport information booths are staffed seven days a week anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day, depending on the season. If you take into account the national value of volunteer time and the number of booths they man every day throughout the year, they save the airport more than $400,000 a year.