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SC Welcomes Non-Profit Groups To Take Over 'Welcome Centers'

Official state-run "Welcome Centers" are common sites along interstate highways. In South Carolina, they're now up for bid. Last year, the visitors bureau in Charleston, SC, spent roughly $200,000 to take over the daily operations of a welcome center. That allowed the state to keep all nine of its welcome centers open seven days a week. But South Carolina tourism office spokesman Marion Edmonds says it's no longer enough. "Unfortunately, what's happened since that time of course is we've continued to take budget cuts," he says. South Carolina's budget is $2 billion less than it was two years ago. The tourism office has suffered a 48 percent cut. So the agency wants non-profit groups like local visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce to run all welcome centers. Altogether, they cost about $2 million to staff, but they also direct visitors to tourist destinations and even help make hotel reservations. A welcome center is located along I-77 in Fort Mill. York County Visitors bureau spokeswoman Sonja Burris says the future of the welcome center is "in discussion. "They basically cross-sale every location in the state, and really have to know everything about every destination in the state of South Carolina," Burris says. "For some travelers it's the first thing they see when arrive at a destination or are heading to one." Still, she says it's too early to say what the York County Visitors Bureau will do. The state tourism office wants groups to express interest by the end of July.