Welcoming visitors and locals
There are 13 welcome centers in the state of Mississippi and one of them lies in Pearl River County along Interstate 59 at mile marker three in Picayune.
The center was established in 1976 and its purpose is to attract as many tourists as possible to visit and stay in Mississippi, Center supervisor Cindy Poland said.
The Pearl River County Welcome Center, which operates under the Mississippi Development Authority/Tourism umbrella, opens its doors to anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 visitors a month, Poland said.
The center is staffed with four certified travel counselors who have been trained in all things Mississippi.
Poland has been a travel counselor for the past 18 years and enjoys meeting different people.
“It makes you feel good when you see someone walk in upset but then leave with a smile,” Poland said. “Our goal is to make the tourist feel at home when they walk in that door.”
The travel counselors are required to participate in a program called the Familiarization of Mississippi. Staff members spend a week in a community in Mississippi and are immersed in the activities and sites to see.
“We actually see these things, so we are able to tell the tourist what it’s like so they know what to expect,” Poland said.
Each month the center hosts community events that correspond to a particular theme of the month. Themes include food, history, arts and literature, music, outdoors, fun for kids, free in Mississippi, golf, agritourism, shopping and holiday happenings.
These events are open to tourists as well as local residents, Poland said. A list of events can be found at the Visit Mississippi website.
Brenda Emmons has been a travel counselor for the past 13 years and enjoys meeting people from all over the country and decorating the center.
“I love being able to tell people the good things about Mississippi and my favorite place to tell them about is Natchez,” Emmons said.
Kathleen Melerine is just beginning her journey as a travel counselor having started a mere three months ago.
“I enjoy explaining the directions on the map to our guests, making sure they are going the right way,” Melerine said. “I love reminding people about the carved trees on the Gulf Coast and I recommend Dunns Falls in Meridian.”
Laura Ladner is a former teacher who has been working as a travel counselor for the past two years.
“My favorite part of the job is getting to meet people from all over the world and my work family,” Ladner said. “My favorite recommendation to guests is the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum in Hattiesburg.”
Counselors provide tourists with brochures, maps and tour guides and highlight points of interest along Interstate 59.
Poland also informs guests about the local antique shops and places to visit in Picayune and Poplarville.
The center’s travel counselors are trained to assist guests with many tasks including hotel and restaurant reservations anywhere in the state, reserving golf course tee times and reservations for shows at casinos.
The center is staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The outside of the building is open 24 hours a day and features a restroom, picnic tables, grills, telephones, RV waste disposal facilities and 24-hour security.
To learn more about visiting Mississippi, visit the website at www.visitmississippi.org or by phone at 601-798-8184.
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