Kentucky Welcome Center
a hit with visitors
manages busy I-71 rest stop
FLORENCE, Ky. (May 2003) Thousands of travelers
enter Kentucky each year by way of interstate highways. A substantial
percentage of them are tourists, and one of the first stops many of
them make is at a Welcome Center.
The Kentucky Welcome Center in Florence, Ky., is one of eight in the
state serving thousands of travelers annually.
Were like a funnel if you look at where were
located, said Welcome Center director Jeff Thoke, a Pendleton,
Ky., resident. The center, located just 15 miles south of Cincinnati
at Exit 177 on the southbound side of I-71/I-75, serves as the primary
gateway into the states north central section. The convergence
of two major interstate highways, I-71 and I-75, near Florence generates
a steady stream of traffic through the area each day.
The centers traffic, which can range from 150 to 1,000 visitors
daily, is composed primarily of travelers from the northern tier of
states and Canada, said Thoke. The center also serves a wide variety
of international tourists entering the area from the Cincinnati-North
Central Kentucky Inter-national Airport, located six miles to the northwest.
At the Welcome Center, Thoke and his staff provide information to travelers
about various attractions across the state.
What we do when they ask about what they can do in Kentucky is
ask them about their interests, Thoke said.
Where visitors head after they leave the center, according to Thoke,
depends mostly on what they like to do and how long they plan to be
in the state. After asking a few questions, Thoke said he can usually
make appropriate suggestions.
From natural resources like Mammoth Cave National Park to bustling cities
such as Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky is not short on options for
travelers. Tourism is Kentuckys third largest industry, according
to the states Tourism Development Cabinet.
Displays at the
In 2000, the industry brought in $8.8 billion to the state,
said Barbara Atwood, assistant director of marketing and advertising
at the State Department of Travel. The Department of Travel compiles
statistical data regarding tourism in the state and offers free travel
information via their website: www.kentuckytourism.com and toll free
As typical of tourism markets across the country, those numbers declined
in 2001 to around $8.7 billion, a decline attributed mostly to the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. In April, Atwood
was busy compiling last years numbers. Early figures indicate
a gain against 2001, Atwood said, but were probably not
going to reach 2000 levels.
Both Atwood and Thoke said they have noticed changes in tourism patterns
over the past couple of years. Rather than planning vacations five or
six months in advance, said Atwood, travelers have shown a propensity
toward spur-of-the-moment travel.
People are more flexible and may decide last minute, she
In order to cater to this change, the Department of Travel is currently
working with travel-related businesses statewide to promote last-minute
specials and package offers. How the information will be related to
potential travelers is still in the development stages, but the department
hopes to have a marketing plan in place sometime this summer.
Along with more impulsive travel plans, Thoke said that many of the
travelers he meets are taking shorter vacations.
The trend that we see is that more and more people are taking
long weekends. Fewer people are taking week-long or two week vacations,
To help travelers get the most out of their trips to Kentucky, whether
they be short or long, the Florence Welcome Center has several hundred
brochures, free state maps, coupons and literature about the state.
Thoke and his staff are also available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily to
assist with directions and travel-related questions. The Welcome Center
will celebrate National Tourism Week, May 10-18, with a race car display
from Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., and with demonstrations by a
Kentucky craftsperson and Abraham Lincoln re-enactor.
The Welcome Center isnt just for tourist, however. Local residents
are urged to stop in to sample the fare and pick up literature about
their home state, Thoke said.
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