JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - With the Fourth of July holiday weekend fast approaching, thousands of people are expected to come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a good time. One of the first places they may stop and visit is a welcome center. That first impression is critical for people who may decide to stay for a few days, or go someplace else.
At the Jackson County welcome center, Elvis is there to greet you. So are friendly staff members. First impressions are important. So are free goodies.
Linda Woodworth is a travel counselor. "Sometimes people come to Mississippi with an idea already of what Mississippi is like, and it's not always positive. So we have a chance here to make a positive impression," Woodworth explained.
Visitors here like what they see. One of them is Nat Cartmell from Texas.
"It's extremely important to run into a place where you run into friendly people, extremely clean restrooms and what a wonderful break after running up and down the highway like this."
Others, like Nancy Simonis from Texas, like the museum like feel of the welcome center.
"This is just a beautiful, beautiful rest stop. And I really do enjoy just coming in and seeing if I can find information on the places that we're going through," Simonis said.
The Marlin Miller chainsaw sculptures at the center are a big hit for Pete Shapter from Arkansas.
"Well, it was neat and clean and the Crepe Myrtles were blooming and the closer we got, the closer we saw these sculptures, and they were just fantastic."
Frankie Stone is here from North Carolina. "It is an outstanding facility. The staff here is excellent and it's real good. A real good first impression," Stone exclaimed.
When you're operating a welcome center, attention to detail is very important. You've got to have cups of hot coffee, you have to have brochures, even road maps. But perhaps the most important thing is having the right attitude, according to Woodworth.
"It's very important to greet people with a pleasant attitude and a great smile and a real interest in where people want to go and if they need directions to some place."
Coast tourism officials estimate the industry brings in about $1.6 billion in revenue every year. That's about one third of the take for entire state.