By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer
The city of Waco hosted a launch party for the Waco Ambassador Program Friday and released Waco’s hype video. Among the guests and stars of the video were Holly Tucker, a Waco native and finalist on “The Voice,” and a giant pineapple.
The pineapple is a part of the city’s campaign to promote hospitality among locals. Carla Pendergraft is director of marketing for the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), which implemented the program. According to Pendergraft, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, especially in the South. She said they chose a pineapple rather than a native symbol because pineapples were exotic and expensive. If a host served one, they were pulling out all the stops for their honored guest.
This attitude is the CVB’s vision for the program. Their motto is “Be sweet. Stand tall. Wear your crown. Love Waco.” They will send Ambassador shirts to anyone who helps a visitor, posts about it, and uses the hashtag “#wacopineapple.” They also have a form online to nominate someone else and a website to explain the pineapple.
Mayor Kyle Deaver said he was proud of Waco’s response to sudden growth, quadrupling the number of visitors since 2014 from 640,000 to an expected 2.8 million this year.
“As we know, Waco became a very large tourist destination very quickly, and our community has risen to the occasion by adapting to the large number of visitors,” Deaver said. “Personally and professionally, I’m very proud of the way that we’ve handled this growth. The Waco Ambassador Program is a way to empower and recognize Wacoans who go out of their way to welcome our visitors and help them find their way around our town.”
Deaver not only encouraged the ambassadors in attendance, he asked them to encourage others to show visitors the pride they have in their city and to be vigilant with how they treat visitors online with comments and posts. He reminded them that a visitor’s experience becomes a lifelong memory of their visit to Waco.
“This program is about much more than just helping visitors. It is a reflection of who we are as a city. Remember, you are what makes Waco special,” Deaver said.
The CVB produced a video with Tucker, who wrote the song for the video, called “Welcome to Waco.” They opened up an invitation to the public last week to be an extra, following Tucker and the pineapple as a part of the excited crowd. At the launch party, the CVB showed the video for the first time. It features iconic places and does not neglect to mention Magnolia. Tucker balanced the publicity with the sweetness of the narrative of a local showing kindness and hospitality to visitors.
“Initially when the city of Waco came to me with this idea, we talked about the kind of ideas that they wanted me to incorporate into the song,” Tucker said. “They wanted the hospitality themes, they wanted the specific mentions of places and people. So they gave me a good outline of the song, but they told me that they wanted it really fun, upbeat, and poppy-summery. Because it’s a pineapple as well, so they wanted it to be something that people could love on.”
Tucker grew up in Waco herself and graduated from Baylor in 2015, the year after she competed on “The Voice”. She now lives in Lorena, but calls Waco home because of all the support the city has shown throughout the years.
Melinda Seibert, executive director of operations at Waco Tours, was one of the extras in the video and has known Tucker for years.
“The city invited us to come as extras and we’re really excited that they’re doing that. We work alongside the city and we feel like we’re ambassadors for our city,” Seibert said.
According to Seibert, a huge part of a visitor’s experience is the impact they have in the place they visit. Waco Tours is well positioned to do just that by connecting with visitors and praying with them.
“Five percent of people come back and do the same tour again,” Seibert said. “The impact, like the city is trying to accomplish, is that people come here because they want to check out Magnolia Market, but they haven’t built a relationship with or experienced all that Waco has to offer and its history. There are a lot of things that people are surprised about … we build a relationship with them and they feel like they’ve got family here.”