Department of Tourism
Highway Welcome Centers Cater to Holiday Travelers
FRANKFORT, Ky. – With the peak holiday travel season underway, Kentucky’s eight interstate highway Welcome Centers are dealing with an onslaught of visitors with questions that cover the gamut of travelers’ needs.
“Where can I get my camper’s broken wheel bearing fixed?” “Where’s the closest Wal-Mart?” “How long will it take to get to Atlanta?” “What’s the fastest route to Nashville?” “Can I get a free Kentucky map?”
Yes, the maps are free, and Welcome Center staffers have to be able to respond in a jiffy to these and many other questions and requests.
Queries about weather and traffic conditions are very common, said Jeff Thoke, supervisor at the Florence Welcome Center on southbound I-75 near Cincinnati. To answer these questions, Thoke and his staff of three travel hosts use various internet sites and an interactive electronic kiosk provided by the Kentucky Department of Transportation that tracks road work and weather throughout the state.
Florence, the busiest Kentucky Welcome Center with approximately 160,000 travelers passing through its doors in 2005, sees visitors from about 20 states and Canada daily, Thoke said. “Since I-71, I-74 and I-75 converge in Cincinnati, our center covers the whole state from Paducah to Prestonsburg and Pikeville,” said Thoke, who‘s managed the Florence center for five and a half years. “We never know where we’re going to be sending them.”
While the majority of travelers who visit the Welcome Centers are bound for destinations outside Kentucky, part of the travel hosts’ job is to sell the state. “We try to encourage them to stay overnight,” said Allen Thompson, manager of the Shelby County Welcome Center. “We look for something near their scheduled stops and suggest they at least spend a few hours there.”
The Shelby County center, on westbound I-64 near Shelbyville, is celebrating its ninth anniversary this month. About 73,000 travelers signed its log book in 2005, Thompson said. The majority of the center’s visitors are coming from Illinois and Indiana and are bound for Gatlinburg, Florida or the Carolinas, said Thompson, the center’s manager since it opened.
The Shelby County center will soon be the site of a Kentucky Tourism Department pilot project called “narrowcasting.” This involves transmitting images, video and text information about the region via a wide screen TV monitor above the welcome counter. Eventually, all the centers will be outfitted with the monitors to transmit content tailored to their regions by the Tourism Department in Frankfort.
On I-65 just south of Louisville, the Bullitt County Welcome Center saw about 98,000 travelers sign its log book in 2005, said Terry Troutman, who has managed the center since it opened in 1992.
Travelers Lonelle and Glenn Baker of Port Angeles, Wash. stopped in the Florence center one morning. They asked for directions to Nashville and explained that they were on a meandering, round-trip, coast-to-coast journey that had already covered 6,000 miles since they departed last August. They glanced at several brochures and inquired about scenic byways in Kentucky.
The couple had one final request before heading back out on the road. Would one of the staff snap a digital photo of them as a memento? Travel host Brad Keith was happy to oblige.
It’s all in a day’s work at a Welcome Center.
The Kentucky Department of Tourism, an agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, exists to promote The Commonwealth as a travel destination, generate revenue and create jobs for Kentucky’s economy