New Welcome Center Opening In Gulf Shores This Spring
By Jessica Jones, GulfCoastNewsToday.com, November 25, 2014
GULF SHORES, ALA — Reporter Jessica Jones sat down with Joanie Flynn, vice president of marketing for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism to talk about the new Welcome Center the tourist agency is building on Alabama 59.
Q. What reasons motivated you to begin work on the building on Highway 59?
A. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism has had a presence on Alabama Highway 59 since our organization was created. We will not keep the old building as we actually are renting that space from the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber. They have plans for how they will use the space we have been occupying there for over the last 20 years.
The purpose of the new building is to expand the space we have to welcome the many visitors to our area. As you can imagine, we have a host of destination assets to showcase and information to impart that can enrich a visit to our beaches and the surrounding areas.
We also will have more parking space for visitors than we have had in our prior location, making it more convenient to stop in for information or to get a question or concern answered.
We have owned the land for a few years and have truly outgrown the current space. After four years of solid recovery from the BP Oil Spill and the economic downturn, our Board of Directors agreed that it was time to expand. In the new space we will be able to display more literature, have an improved interactive experience and better showcase our many tourism-related businesses.
The space will also have a multi-purpose room where we can gather for training and informational meetings for our Industry Partners to strategize even more ways to improve our visitor experience.
Q. For those who may not be familiar with Welcome Centers, explain what items and services will be featured there and how it might serve residents and guests, alike.
A.Visitors are encouraged to come to the Welcome Center to learn about the full range of activities, services, shopping, dining and attractions that can serve their needs during their visit. Our experienced vacation specialists interact with guests, customizing and responding to each visitor’s unique needs and questions. It is a great one-stop shop to learn about our area and be sure the visitor does not miss any aspect of what we offer in which they might have an interest. Many visitors learn about our beaches, our abundant nature offerings plus the history, culture and breadth of all that our area offers its visitors. We have displays, flat screen videos about the area, and sometimes sponsor interactive exhibits and presentations about activities and events.
Local industry partners from the lodging, restaurants, attractions, retail and services sectors provide us with literature to share about how their businesses can meet visitor needs. We promote special events happening in the area that would be of interest to visitors.
Our Sports Commission sponsors, mainly local businesses, have an opportunity to showcase their offering to visitors to garner more business from our sports visitors as well.
The new Gulf Shores Welcome Center, like our existing Orange Beach Welcome Center, will also serve as an educational gathering center for our Industry Partners when we run periodic training, educational and planning meetings for them.
Local residents often will refer us to visiting family and friends as the place to get information on what’s happening during their visit. Many will refer them to our online Calendar of Events at GulfShores.com/things-to-do/calendar-events/ for the most up-to-date information or to do online research to find the many amazing experiences available from fishing to watersports to golf or to cultural and historic attractions to round out their visitor experience.
Q. What is the budget for the new project? Explain some of the plans for construction, design, and feasibility.
A. The construction budget for the new Welcome Center is $2.1 million. The building will encompass 5,400 square feet, and will feature insulated concrete form walls and impact glass windows to minimize any damage from weather events. The lobby area in this new center is far larger than in the current Welcome Center. It will have a cathedral ceiling, special sections for showcasing information, a quiet reading area for computer research, and flexibility for changing displays. This concept of utilizing the display space in a variety of flexible ways was a design priority. Incorporating that means we will be able to continue to offer new and exciting visitor experiences for many years to come.
If plans proceed as expected, we will be ready to open the new Gulf Shores Welcome Center during late spring 2015.
Q. What do you think the new building will say about Gulf Shores and how newcomers perceive the community?
A. The new building should inspire our visitors and our residents, heighten their awareness of the special experiences they can have on our beaches, in our nature areas, in our restaurants and when pursuing various activities. We hope they will also sense how they can relax, re-connect and enjoy something new each time they come. Local residents will be proud of what we offer and what we represent – a quality vacation destination that is family-friendly and which strives to create satisfied customers that will return, refer and recommend everyone they know to do the same.
Our new Welcome Center will communicate a warm Southern welcome and extend our special brand of casual hospitality that helps create valuable vacation memories and repeat visitors.