Building bridges with visitor activities

Temple Square, with its elaborate gardens and historic buildings, is a treasure in the desert that the Church's Visitor Activities office is eager to share.

The challenge, said W. Boyd Christensen, chairman of Visitor Activities, is to make visiting Temple Square and all Church attractions accessible and inviting to travelers who, otherwise, would sit stranded in the Salt Lake International Airport."Last year, 21.5 million people flew through Salt Lake City," Brother Christensen said. "About 70 percent of those passengers were connecting with other flights. And about 60 percent of those layovers were longer than six hours."

"We are in a unique situation," Brother Christensen explained. "With an airport that is only seven miles away, and with Church facilities so centrally located, layover passengers need only 90 minutes and they have a chance to see a great deal in a short time."

Visitor Activities was organized four years ago when Brother Christensen was called by Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Visitor Activities office is organized under the auspices of the Missionary Department with ties to the Church's public affairs office.

"The purpose of Visitor Activities is to build bridges of friendship between the Church and the community," Brother Christensen said. "Our first purpose is to be a friend," he continued. "The key to the success of Visitor Activities is to make people feel comfortable as they enter a new city . . . as 65 percent of the visitors that have taken a Temple Square airport tour have never been to Salt Lake City before."

Last year, 40,000 people participated in the Church attractions of the Pioneer Trolley, Garden Tours, the Airport Temple Square Tour and the outdoor concert series.

To make it easier for more out-of-state visitors to tour the Church facilities, a complimentary shuttle van service was started last year.

Passengers to the Salt Lake airport - who are waiting for connecting flights - can now ride the shuttle van. The van transports visitors from the airport to the west side of Temple Square where they are greeted by sister missionaries.

Last year, during its inaugural season, 2,500 passengers rode the shuttle. The season has been extended this year from four months to six, and operates seven days a week.

"It now runs from general conference to general conference," explained Don Toomey, who supervises the program.

More than 40 Church service missionaries, including former bishops, regional representatives and mission presidents who live along the Wasatch Front, chauffeur the vans.

"This is a group of capable people who will know how to extend courtesy to our visitors and answer their questions appropriately," Brother Toomey said.

Visitor participation is expected to increase this year because of better publicity. "We hope that people who use this tour will return home and tell their friends," Brother Christensen said.

Other publicity will come from a video clip at the airport information center and from a nationally syndicated radio travel show, as well as promotion from airlines and travel agents.

Program supervisors, however, are careful not to infringe on other commercial services that transport passengers from the airport. "We require the showing of an airline ticket and don't allow luggage," Brother Christensen said.

If time permits visitors to see more after the airport/Temple Square tour, visitors have the option of riding the Pioneer Trolley, visiting the FamilySearch center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, viewing Legacy, taking a walking garden tour of the extensive landscaping, or attending an outdoor concert.

The Pioneer Trolley service runs June through August. The open-air trolley circles the two main blocks of Temple Square and the Church Office Buildings about every 15 minutes. A hostess on the trolley provides commentary about the buildings, landscaping and history of the area.

The value of the Trolley Tour, explained Joannie Twitchell, supervisor of the trolley, is to help visitors feel welcome to the area, and to "break down the austere walls of uncertainty that come with an unfamiliar city," she said.

After perusing the two-block complex, visitors may wish to inspect the grounds more closely by taking a garden tour.

Service missionaries lead visitors on a walking tour on the grounds of the Church Office and Administration buildings, as well as the Lion House and Beehive House. They describe how the flowers are planted to provide a constant explosion of color and how the gardens have a wild, natural appearance.

The garden tours begin in the southwest corner of the Church Office Building at regularly scheduled intervals six days a week.

For those visiting during the evenings, an Outdoor Concert Series is planned in the Historic Brigham Young Park, located directly east of the Church Office Building.

Families, friends or tourists are invited to sit in the chairs or throw out a blanket on the grass for the hour-long concerts. Music ranges from pioneer-like music to the Scots Pipe Band, a traditional favorite.

"We are excited about the performers," said Ray and Norene Emerson, supervisors of the concert series. "These are accomplished musicians. This is one of the few places this quality of talent would play for free."

Performances begin June 3 with the Utah National Guard 23rd Army Band with rousing marches and patriotic medleys. Concerts start at 8 p.m. and continue every Tuesday and Friday through August.


Visitor Activities

Temple Square

Shuttle van

Pioneer trolley

Tours of the Square

Administration block

Garden tours

Brigham Young Park

Outdoor concerts

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