Tourism agency puts area welcome centers up for bid

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's cash-strapped tourism agency is looking for nonprofit organizations to take over operation of the state's nine welcome centers.

The Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department says a $200,000 deal with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to run the facility at Santee has allowed other centers on major highway entry points to the state to stay open seven days a week.

Charleston visitors bureau director Helen Hill says the welcome centers are key sales points for making hotel and restaurant reservations and recommendations for travelers.

The new approach is the result of ongoing state budget cuts that have forced layoffs and furloughs at most agencies.

Tourism is the state's largest industry, bringing in $18 billion a year.

Here are the locations of the nine centers and the estimated cost of running each one:

  • U.S. Highway 17 at Little River, $210,882
  • Interstate 85 southbound at Blacksburg, $202,384
  • Interstate 26 eastbound at Landrum, $199,603
  • Interstate 85 northbound at Fair Play, $201,219
  • Interstate 20 eastbound at North Augusta, $214, 813
  • Interstate 95 southbound at Dillon, $204,866
  • Interstate 95 southbound at Santee, $211,812
  • Interstate 95 northbound at Hardeeville, $223,496
  • Interstate 77 southbound at Fort Mill, $201,563
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