Al and Betsy Yost have had a second home in Ocean City since 1989, but even they wanted to stop by the island's new Roy Gillian Welcome Center on the Route 52 causeway on a recent afternoon.

With so many attractions and events in the city each summer, the couple from Broomall, Pa., wanted to pick up some information for family members who would be visiting.

"We always stop and pick stuff up at visitor centers when we travel," said Betsy Yost, saying the material is an easy way to get familiar with an area.

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That is what governments and business associations hope for when they build welcome centers, especially in vacation destinations such as New Jersey's shore towns. Officials see them as essential to their communities, along with combed beaches and sturdy boardwalks.

"We want one place to go to for information, to purchase beach tags and to generally get a lay of the land, and for people to be able to speak with someone one-on-one to learn all their options when they're there," said Katherine Custer, director of community services in Sea Isle City, which opened a new welcome center in the fall.

These facilities have had a changing role in recent decades. In the pre-Internet age, researching what resorts had to offer ahead of time was not as easy. Visitor centers were vital for aggregating all that information.

Even today, as Custer noted, people want a real person to confirm information, even if they found it online.

"It's one-on-one attention that the Internet does not provide and the apps do not provide," said Lori Pepenella, destination marketing director for the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce. "They still want some sort of verification that the places are still around or that the places are worth going to."

In some cases, people use them in lieu of planning ahead.

"People will actually come to town and be there without a hotel room, and come there and find a room," said Elaine Zamansky, spokeswoman for the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, about Atlantic City's welcome centers.

The operation of these facilities vary from place to place. Some are run and funded by business groups. Others are operated by government departments or agencies. Still others are a combination of both.

Long Beach Island's visitor center, which had more 3,600 people visit last year, is run entirely by the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, with funding coming from events and membership dues, Pepenella said.

Atlantic City's two visitor centers - on the Atlantic City Expressway and on the Boardwalk, near Boardwalk Hall, which saw a combined 134,782 visitors last year - are run by the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.

Ocean City's new center houses the city's Chamber of Commerce, which operates with revenue from mercantile licenses.

Sea Isle City's new facility houses employees from the city's tourism department as well as officials from the local chamber.

Ocean City's was built by the state Department of Transportation as part of the roughly $500 million bridge project. The city's former facility along the causeway was demolished to make room for the new span.

Sea Isle's was funded by the city to complement the overhaul of its central corridor, referred to as the Beach to Bay project. It cost more than $900,000, which included updates to its attached community lodge.

In the eyes of officials who run these centers, the services more than justify the costs of operation, because their benefits to tourism sustain the shore economy.

Those benefits may be as simple as providing directions or maps to where businesses are located, or giving out coupons and rack-card advertisements.

"What sustains these islands is the businesses," said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. "The stronger the business community is, the stronger the island's economy is."

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