Did you know that the Keystone Welcome Center at Pennsylvania's Great Lakes in Erie County is in the backyard of a grape vineyard and offers a breathtaking view of Lake Erie? Or, that the Keystone Welcome Center at Delaware Water Gap in Monroe County has a unique rooftop garden where travelers can take a picnic break?
Did you know that the Keystone Welcome Center at Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County offers a log cabin look and feel and binocular viewers to help travelers spot wildlife and take in scenic views? Or, that many of the Welcome Centers have hosted some high-profile visitors, including the likes of singer-songwriters Lady Gaga and Brett Michaels, actors Bo Derek and John Corbett, and several high-ranking political officials?
This is just a small peek inside the unique and often interesting world of Pennsylvania's 14 PennDOT Welcome Centers, a world in which each of the centers' employees play a vital role in contributing to one of the Keystone State's top leading industries – travel and tourism.
PennDOT Welcome Centers
To effectively provide travel and accommodation assistance, PennDOT Welcome Centers are strategically located along interstate entry points bordering other states to assist travelers entering the state. Open seven days a week, including most holidays, these centers and their employees often provide a first impression of Pennsylvania for out-of-state travelers.
"Our tourist information counselors serve as ambassadors for the commonwealth and offer firsthand knowledge of tourism attractions to best serve their customers and meet their travel needs," said Tiffany Brown, PennDOT's tourism services manager.
The tourist information counselors provide travelers with free reservation services at any statewide business that accepts reservations. Equipped with a vast knowledge of regional and statewide attractions, counselors make reservations for hotels, motels, campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, dinner theaters, restaurants and other attractions.
Through this personalized travel counseling and itineraries, tourist information counselors helped to shape the travel plans of more than 3.6 million customers in 2019, making 6,800 reservations, and generating nearly $800,000 in tourism revenue for the commonwealth.
Asked what he likes most about his job, Ray Hancheck, tourist information supervisor at the Keystone Welcome Center in Washington County replied: "The people. Visitors from all over the country and from all over the world, looking to spend time in Pennsylvania. I enjoy having the opportunity to guide travelers to their destinations, inform them on what our state has to offer, and even to get them back onto their path of travel."
To meet the diverse needs of travelers, the Welcome Centers also offer free Wi-Fi; complimentary maps, Pennsylvania travel and tourism literature and hotel coupon discount booklets; weather and current road condition information; and language translation services.
Welcome Centers even offer free exhibit space allowing Pennsylvania made products to be displayed. "Our Keystone Welcome Center in York County proudly displays a Harley Davidson motorcycle and handmade quilts," Brown said. "Our Keystone Welcome Center at Dutch County in Franklin County displays Snyder's of Hanover products, while our Keystone Welcome Center at the Alleghenies in Fulton County showcases a variety of DelGrosso products."
Co-located with PennDOT Rest Areas, the Welcome Centers provide travelers with a place of respite offering restrooms, vending machines, picnic tables and even designated pet areas at most locations for furry travelers, too. On holiday weekends during the busy summer travel season, approved organizations provide a free cup of joe and other refreshments to encourage weary travelers to take a break for safety.
For Scott Williams, tourist information supervisor at the Keystone Welcome Center at Shenango Valley in Mercer County, some of the most requested services he's received during his 15-year Welcome Center career are "suggestions, recommendations and guidance or directions to locations or places of interest."
Williams enjoys interacting and assisting diverse travelers from all over the globe. "This is only job I have ever had that I come to work with a smile, and I go home with a smile," he said.
Along with a wide array of services, Welcome Center employees help to coordinate a variety of community outreach programs, including National Travel and Tourism Week and PennDOT Safety Days, in partnership with Pennsylvania's transportation and tourism industry partners and stakeholders.
National Travel and Tourism Week, which is typically held annually the first week of May, is celebration of the contributions and accomplishments of the U.S. travel industry. During this week, tourist information counselors design unique and creative ways to help promote tourism in Pennsylvania and its importance.
"Throughout the week, tourism partners, convention and visitor's bureaus and local businesses are invited to our locations to spend face-to-face time networking with customers and others in the tourism industry," Brown said. "It's a great way for the centers to promote and celebrate a wide array of Pennsylvania's tourism attractions."
Hosting PennDOT Safety Days is a newer initiative that began at the Welcome Centers in 2018. The idea originated from Anne Horosky, tourist information supervisor at the Keystone Welcome Center at Brandywine Valley in Delaware County, who submitted the idea through IdeaLink, PennDOT's online employee engagement system.
Safety Days bring together safety partners from across Pennsylvania for a unique, safety-focused day, highlighting topics related to work zones, motorcycles, aggressive and impaired driving, car seats, driver safety laws, and fire safety, among others.
"Safety is a cause that we all care deeply about," said Horosky. "What better way to get out safety messages while people are travelling during the busy summer months."
During these National Travel and Tourism Week and Safety Day events, PennDOT Welcome Centers have also proudly displayed PennDOT's Workers' Memorial as well as the National Work Zone Memorial Wall.
Come Visit Us!
"Our Welcome Centers are often called a window into the world of Pennsylvania," Brown said. "Our tourist information counselors are actively engaged in promoting Pennsylvania as a number one tourism destination. If you are interested in touring the great state of Pennsylvania, stop in a Welcome Center for personalized travel counsel or pick up one of our most requested items, the state travel and tourism map."
For more information on the Welcome Centers, visit www.penndot.gov/TravelInPA.
Watch the videos below to see our Welcome Center staff in action!