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Downtown Guides Look to Make L.A. Friendly

By Lauren Mattia
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at 12:15PM
Mikey Wally

From left: Downtown Guides Mark Ferem and Katrina Hensley, Team Manager Leo Hoffmann, and Downtown Guide Jennifer Briseno.

Can you guess which city was rated the least friendly city in the U.S.? Hint: it isn't New York.

In a recent Travel & Leisure Magazine survey of 35 U.S. cities based on their culture, shopping, restaurants, nightlife, and more, Los Angeles was voted the least friendly city by visitors. The Downtown Center Business Improvement District hopes that their purple-shirted guides might change that disheartening statistic, at least for the central city.

"People come Downtown for the first time dont know where to go," explains Alex Stettinski, Director of Marketing and Communications. "Our staff is educated about everything hospitality-related that goes on Downtown."

Although the Downtown Guides inform tourists from all over the globe as to where to eat, drink, and be merry, it isn't all about fun and games. "The training is very extensive," says Downtown Guide Mark Ferem. On top of giving tourists advice on activities, "If there is an emergency, we need to be eyes and ears on the street."

The program began as an outgrowth of the BID's "Clean and Safe" efforts, which Stettinski says is an important part of making the neighborhood welcoming. "The patrols on bikes make sure the area stays secure and the maintenance people put a lot of work to keep the sidewalks are clean and nice," he says.

After those programs got off the ground, the BID decided to start a program "with people who come out of marketing," Stettinski explains. "We consider them concierges on the streets."

"When we get hired, we are all kind of natural personalities," says Ferem. "You have to be able to handle certain situations, but have fun with it."

In 2010 alone, the guides gave over 37,000 directions and over 225,000 welcome maps designed for visitors and businesses. A few more, and L.A. might just find itself moving up the list.

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