Welcome Center Thrives under County

SNOW HILL- Now under control of the Worcester County Tourism Department, the Maryland Welcome Center on U.S. Route 13 is prospering despite being open fewer days per week.

With fewer hours per week, the Maryland Welcome Center at the county line near the border with Virginia managed to attract similar numbers of visitors while operating under their budget compared to last year. Formerly a state run institution, the Welcome Center was placed in control of Worcester County Tourism this year.

Under the new management, the center slowly expanded its hours of operation over the course of the summer, starting at four days a week in March and currently holding at five days a week as of September. This is the exact opposite of what happened the summer of 2009, where availability dropped over several months from seven days a week in March to six by September.

Another encouraging pattern that’s emerging with the Welcome Center under county control is the amount of visitors. While numbers were slightly down this year, one should remember that the center was not open as often as a year ago. However, by the end of the summer, visitors per month for July and August were nearly identical to previous statistics. For the month of September, there were actually more people coming to the center than a year prior.

Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger attributed the rise in September to seniors who prefer interacting ‘face to face’ with someone who can help them in a more personal setting. Other factors helping the center include a large motor pool, with busses responsible for bringing in 2,327 of the Welcome Center’s 16,064 September visitors.

Challenger is optimistic about the fate of the center under Worcester County direction.

“We’re operating under our budget,” she said. “We’ve been saving money on salaries and utilities. Utilities especially have been trimmed. We’ve cut our expenses from those in half.”

Not only is the Center more efficient this year, it’s also expecting to upgrade in some areas of customer service.

“Thanks to the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council, the Welcome Center will be home to a new Informational Interactive Kiosk by late 2010,” she said.

One of the few issues affecting the center is a need for volunteers. Challenger is hoping some will join the Welcome Center so that it can expand its availability to seven days a week.