In addition to sun, sand, surf, luxury accommodations, and fine dining, visitors to Fort Lauderdale's beach have a very special resource. That resource is Ralph Riehl, president of the South Florida Tourism Counsel. He is ready, willing, and able to make vacations enjoyable and memorable. It only takes a few moments with Riehl to realize he is a man who loves people and his job.
"I have the best job in the world and the best commute in the world," said Riehl. Who wouldn't like a commute of a few blocks with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and bustling hotels, shops, and restaurants on the other? According to Riehl, he's available "eight days a week" to help everyone and anyone who stops by his bright red and yellow kiosk on A1A just south of Las Olas Boulevard.
Whatever is needed, Riehl does his best to fill that need. Want to book a bus trip to Key West? Charter a sail boat? Try your hand at scuba or sky diving? Need a kid friendly restaurant? How about sport fishing, snorkeling, or a tour of the Everglades? Riehl has all the information and can arrange tours and trips to just about every place and everything South Florida has to offer. And if you have the misfortune of coming down with a toothache or feel a bit under the weather, he can help you there also.
"There is no high pressure sales here. All off this is done with an easy banter and an encyclopedic knowledge of all the wonderful recreational and cultural activities available," said Fred Carlson, director of special programs for the South Florida Tourism Council.
Referring to Riehl's reputation for being helpful, Carlson reports that when something needs attention on the beach, Riehl lets the authorities know and they listen. Riehl was instrumental in getting the Sun Trolley up and running along A1A and he has been actively promoting and helping the police patrols to take on a welcoming and helpful ambassadorial role along the beach.
Riehl arrived in South Florida by way of New Jersey and the Midwest where he was a successful business owner. He spent a year or so sailing the Bahamas, then settled in Fort Lauderdale in 1979. Since 1994, he has been successfully enhancing the experiences of travelers to our fair city.
"I don't have to travel anymore; the whole world goes by here," said Riehl. He estimates about 6,000 people a month stroll pass his kiosk, which is well stocked with a wide of variety of brochures and pamphlets.
The upscale building boom along the beach is guaranteed to attract more and more visitors from around the world. The Hilton and Atlantic are now open for business with the W, St. Regis, and two Trump properties soon to follow. The result will be more strollers looking for fun things to do and places to go.
Riehl knows the impact of tourism on our economy and he knows the importance of keeping the tourists happy. His goal is to excite these visitors and send them home with fond memories of participating in Fort Lauderdale's many signature activities. Activities like the water taxi, Jungle Queen, a Segway Beach Tour, an airboat ride in the Everglades, kite surfing, parasailing, or a glass bottom boat ride. "When they get home and are asked 'What did you do on your vacation?' they will be excited about the things they did," said Riehl.
Plans for another kiosk are in the works and Riehl is looking for a few good volunteers. If you love interacting with people and love the beach, this just may be the job for you. Contact Riehl at 954-522-1770 or by email at email@example.com.
Even if you're not interested in volunteering, the next time you're driving on A1A just south of Las Olas, give him a honk and a wave or, better yet, stop by and say hi to Fort Lauderdale's very own beach ambassador.
Ed. Note: Jan Gerner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Promenade Newspaper.