Though the internet is the top source of information for travelers to do vacation planning, there’s still an important place for brick and mortar visitor centers.
Laura Kevin greets visitors at the Door County Visitor Bureau’s Welcome Center on Hwy 42 in Sturgeon Bay, where as many as 800 people come through on busy weekends, and 55,446 people stopped throughout 2016. That number is only slightly down from a high of 63,118 in 2010. The bulk of those visitors come between June and October.
“You’d be surprised, but a lot of people still just drive to Door County and plan to figure out what to do when they get here,” she said. “They just don’t know where to go or how to get around.”
Kevin has worked at the visitor center for five years, and though people can find nearly anything they need on their computers, tablets, and cell phones, she said they still spend a portion of every day re-stocking brochures and visitor guides in the lobby. Many visitors need bags to hold all the flyers they grab, and sometimes even more.
Jon Jarosh, the DCVB’s Director of Communications and PR, said some visitors stop on their way out of town to grab brochures for their next visit or to give to friends.
“We’ll sometimes have to go out back and grab a box for people to carry everything,” she said. “People still want something tangible they can carry.”
For the staff at the welcome center, helping visitors isn’t just about answering questions. To guide people to the best experience, Kevin said you have to be curious as well.
“You have to take a couple minutes to find out what people’s interests are and get an idea of what types of things they’re going to like to do and what their budget is,” she said. “Door County has something for everyone, you just have to figure out what fits each person.”
Over an hour on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 27, dozens of visitors came through the center. A mother and young son stocked up on brochures full of kids and outdoor activities, another couple locked in on promotional videos playing in the lobby. One woman browsed the shelves of brochures, looking for restaurant menus and new ideas after decades of visiting Washington Island every summer.
“A lot of people stop in every year just to ask what’s new to check out,” Kevin said. “They love when you can tell them something new and they can leave with something special in mind.”
And there two questions the welcome center staff hears every day – where can they get a fish boil, and where is the place with the goats on the roof?
The welcome center bathrooms and lobby are open 24 hours a day and has phone charging stations and wi-fi for visitors, part of an ongoing evolution aimed at meeting traveler demands.
“For the future, we’re looking at a whole bunch of options,” Jarosh said. “We have to figure out what we’re going to do to evolve that welcome center to meet the needs of travelers now and what they’ll want five years down the line.”