“We’re the first face of Georgia,” said Keri Ogletree, the manager of the Augusta visitor information center on the westbound Georgia side of Interstate 20. “Most importantly, we make sure we greet all of our visitors and provide hospitality.”
In South Carolina, the staff takes a similar approach to greeting travelers.
“The most important thing is making sure that customers feel at home,” said Andrea Wright, a certified travel counselor at the North Augusta welcome center. “We never stay behind the desk. We’re always moving, and we walk with them to find whatever they need.”
Staffers provide brochures about destinations and attractions, make hotel reservations and offer driving directions.
“The staff within those centers are the most highly trained travel counselors the state has regarding South Carolina’s statewide travel product,” said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “They play a critical role as point-of-sale promoters of all that is special about our state, and because of their efforts visitors to South Carolina see more, stay longer and spend more while they are here.”
The centers also provide updates on traffic and weather. Staffers monitor the weather online and by radio, and they keep The Weather Channel playing constantly to be aware of potential weather emergencies. During hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Wilma, Georgia welcome centers extended their hours and provided information about hotel room availability.
“They serve a critical function during natural disasters such as hurricanes,” said Alison Tyrer, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “If people are being evacuated or looking for housing, they can go to a visitors center and find out where there would be accommodation.”
The Augusta center, the newest and largest in Georgia, serves hundreds of people each day. On a recent weekday, Chuck Zimmerman, 71, stopped at the center, where an employee laid out a map and highlighted the ideal route for the next leg of his trip from Maryland to his home in The Villages, Fla.
“We’ve never taken this route before,” Zimmerman said. “We didn’t get lost, but we just wanted to make sure.”
He stops at welcome centers in every state he visits, to get advice and directions or to find out about destinations for a prolonged stay.