Half-Millionth Visitor to Eastern Shore Welcome Center

 Kerry Allison, Executive Director of the ES Tourism Commission; Jacques and Shirley Dumoulin; Fred Stant, CBBT Commission Chairman; Allan Burns, ES Welcome Center Manager; and Bill Murphy, ES Welcome Center Volunteer.

Kerry Allison, Executive Director of the ES Tourism Commission; Jacques and Shirley Dumoulin; Fred Stant, CBBT Commission Chairman; Allan Burns, ES Welcome Center Manager; and Bill Murphy, ES Welcome Center Volunteer.

Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission

May 17, 2014

Jacque Dumoulin and his wife, Shirley, driving from Florida to Pennsylvania to visit family, needed a break after they arrived on the Virginia Eastern Shore via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and stopped at the rest area on the right. As is often the case, they noticed the tiny, cheerful and information-rich visitor center housed in the same building and decided to take a look around.

When Mr. Dumoulin walked through the Welcome Center door, he was greeted by Allan Burns, center manager, as the official half millionth visitor to the Eastern Shore Southern Gateway Welcome Center, which opened in August 2009. It’s another milestone for the center, which has seen increases in utilization every year since opening and averages 10,000 visitors monthly.

The lucky Dumoulins were showered with gifts, all local treasures donated by Eastern Shore businesses. “We can’t wait to tell our daughter and her family,” Dumoulin said. “We’ve never stopped here before and had no idea this area was so interesting.” He pointed to the 3D map of the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, one of the state-of-the-art features of the Welcome Center, which has four attention-grabbing light box displays, two 3D exhibits, a real-time video weather feed, videos showcasing local attractions, area restaurant menus, and over 200 rack cards touting everything from history, recreation, shops, restaurants and lodging to upcoming events. A touchscreen information kiosk in a corridor just outside the center helps visitors who stop in during off-hours.


The idea for a visitor center on the Eastern Shore’s southern tip started small back in 2006 as a pilot project in the confines of a then much-smaller rest area. After thirty thousand travelers stopped to learn more about Virginia’s Eastern Shore and all there was to see and do, the pilot was deemed a huge success and expansion plans got underway.

Today, the Welcome Center is a critical piece of marketing the Virginia Eastern Shore to visitors, with a ready army of expert volunteers to help steer folks off 13 and into the nooks and crannies of the Virginia Eastern Shore to shop, dine, play and stay.

The growth of traffic to the center has far surpassed initial expectations, says Jeff Holland, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel executive director. “It has been a tremendous success. Utilization has exceeded the original “pilot project” projections by more than 50 percent. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission applauds the excellent work of the Tourism Commission and looks forward to a continued partnership that will benefit multitudes of local businesses and visitors from near and far for many years to come.”

One of the keys to the Welcome Center’s success is the volunteer staff who have an in-depth knowledge of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and eagerly share their love of the area. They are warm, helpful and always willing to go the extra mile to help a traveler. Center manager Allan Burns remembers the time a woman arrived pulling a horse trailer with seven horses. Wind restrictions delayed her trip across the bridge, she was out of feed, and the horses were getting restless. A quick phone call to Connie Rittenhouse of Cape Charles Carriage Horses, and a pickup truck arrived loaded with bales of hay. Welcome Center staff introduced yet another visitor to that well-known Eastern Shore hospitality.

“We are very proud of our customer service philosophy,” says Lisa LaMontagne, Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission chair. “Our Welcome Center staff and volunteers transmit the unique culture of the Virginia Eastern Shore to each person who walks through the door and are top-notch ambassadors for our region. Their efforts cause thousands of people to stop and explore the area who normally would just drive through.”

Virginia’s tourism industry generated over $21 billion in revenue in 2012. On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, lodging tax collections for Accomack and Northampton counties – one of the most accurate measures of visitor activity, grew nearly 17% from 2008 to 2012, even during a time of grave economic challenge in the broader U.S. economy. Visitors to esvatourism.org – the Eastern Shore’s comprehensive visitor website — have increased 148% since 2011.



9 Responses to “Half-Millionth Visitor to Eastern Shore Welcome Center”

  1. Donna Bozza on May 17th, 2014 9:38 am

    When we started up the ES Tourism in 2009, as the first tourism director a regional Welcome Center was a dream. I and the commission at the time, thought we might see it realized in 10-20 years –maybe. But it was the amazing partnership with the CBBT, [Andrew Barbour and Debra Christie the initial gutsy advocates], re-allocated grant funds from Northampton County and the amazing support of ES businesses that made it a reality! A volunteer design team of Nan Bennett, Paige Addison and myself, begged, borrowed but we skipped the “stole” part to create a true Shore welcome. Volunteer and paid staff make the hospitality happen daily headed by the best– Allan Burns. A special thanks to artisan David Crane of Seafire Ceramics who created the awesome floor medallion at cost. I’m personally proud of this accomplishment and also proud as a Shore resident. Keep up the good work all!

  2. John Burns on May 17th, 2014 2:03 pm

    Looks like all your hard work paid off. Congratulations!

  3. Donna Bozza on May 17th, 2014 5:32 pm

    We had a great team John, thanks!

  4. Jim Holloway on May 19th, 2014 11:15 am

    Congratulations on a job well done for the first 1/2 Million, your warmth and compassion you express to visitors is quite evident. As a come here, we are so thankful to call the Eastern Shore and Cape Charles our home. Jim Holloway, Innkeeper, Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles

  5. Paul Gordon on May 19th, 2014 6:32 pm

    Good job, Allan

  6. Kerry Allison on May 19th, 2014 8:48 pm

    Many folks went unnamed who took the Welcome Center vision and made it come about. Hat tip to all of you!

  7. Dana Lascu on May 20th, 2014 1:23 am

    An appropriate name for it is the Donna Bozza Welcome Center. Hard to imagine this story without Donna’s initial vision and fierce advocacy.

  8. Donna Bozza on May 20th, 2014 11:58 am

    You’re sweet Dana. It was a “fierce” team indeed. Kerry is correct. Lots of folks did their part and it is an awesome tool for getting folks OFF 13 and into our lovely towns.

  9. Donna Bozza on May 21st, 2014 3:00 pm

    Oops, it was 2005 when we started the Tourism Commission has an independent agency -not 2009. Sorry.
    Time flies.