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A.C. ambassadors: Part-concierges, part-town watchers

An upgraded Boardwalk Ambassadors program is paying dividends for Atlantic City.

SO, there you are, a first-time Atlantic City visitor, on the Boardwalk. You're standing in front of The Pier Shops at Caesars and you decide you want to check out the Land Shark Bar & Grill on the Resorts Casino-Hotel beach. But being unfamiliar with the lay of the land, you don't know whether to go right or left to reach your destination.

You could always guess, and hope you've made the right decision. Or you could reach out to an easy-to-spot Boardwalk Ambassador and ask for directions.

Clad in electric lime-green shirts and patrolling either on foot or bicycle, the Ambassadors serve as combination concierges and Town Watch sentinels in the city's Tourism District, which encompasses the casino-hotel strip along the Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue.

"Customer service is our primary objective - assisting visitors [by providing] information on shows and events, giving directions," explained Tom Burns, manager of the Boardwalk Ambassadors program. "But also, while we're out and about in the Tourism District, there's going to be instances where they're going to see and hear things that need to be reported. If there's a fight . . . if they see it, they're going to call the cops. We like to consider it being in the right place at the right time."

The Ambassadors concept has been around for more than 15 years, but it was only in 2012, when the Tourism District was created and placed under the aegis of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), that it took its current form.

Not only were the staffers provided more visible and official-looking uniforms, but their numbers increased from about 25 to 60 full-timers and 15 more who work during the peak visitation season, which runs from Memorial Day to the end of the Miss America Pageant, in mid-September. In addition, noted Burns, potential Ambassadors are now required to have at least an associate degree or "some kind of comparable work experience."

While the Ambassadors' uniforms are purposely designed to give them a security-guard-like appearance, Burns stressed that they are not there to provide law enforcement. Instead, their main concerns are "all kinds of quality of life stuff on the Boardwalk.

"If there are issues, little things that are out of place or not right, we'll report that to the right department or division."

In the process, the Ambassadors should improve visitors' stay by the sea, he said. "It's cumulatively a lot of little things, but it all adds up to the impression the tourists have, good or bad, based upon whether or not we're taking care of issues."

Still, a premium is placed on vigilance: Burns detailed that, in 2011, the Ambassadors placed 43 emergency and nonemergency calls to local authorities. Last year, that number was 475, although he was quick to point out that the majority were of the nonemergency variety.

So far, the upgraded program seems to be a success, he said. "We're only a small slice of the pie down here, but the feedback I've gotten [from the public and business owners] is overwhelmingly positive. I think the program has substantially improved in the past two years. Our challenge now is to continually raise the bar."