Since the South Carolina Welcome Center opened off Interstate 77 in Fort Mill 26 years ago, Betty Skeen has managed it, assisting travelers day in and day out.
Last month, Skeen was honored with the first Lifetime Achievement in Tourism award, presented by the Olde English District Tourism Commission. The award was then renamed the Olde English District Hospitality Employee of the Year Award in her honor.
Herald reporter Jessica Schonberg sat down with Skeen on Wednesday to talk about her career in tourism and the holiday travel season now under way.
Q: How did you get into this field?
A: "I was looking to work. My aunt said to me, 'Why don't you go to the welcome center.' Well I didn't know what the welcome center was. She said, 'You would be good at that.' That's what she said. I'll always remember that.
"And so I went there, I applied for the job, I was hired and went on as part time and then in like three weeks I think I got on full time."
Q: What is this place like during the Thanksgiving travel rush?
A: "As you can see, traffic is very good. The traffic is up by 200 people over last year. That's good for us.
"All day we'll be busy with visitors who want to know how to get to their destination, where they can spend the night, where is a good place to eat, where is the cheap gas. ... We're here helping the visitors all day."
Q: What's the most common question you are asked?
A: "Directions to Myrtle Beach or people that are lost and looking for Interstate 85.
"We have little printed out directions that we use for Myrtle Beach, getting on (I) 95 ... just anything close by ... because you don't have time to write all that for people."
Q: What kind of mood are travelers in when they stop?
A: "The biggest part of the people are happy. They're on a vacation. They have a destination, and they are happy.
"Those that are lost sometimes are not quite as happy. But basically speaking, they are very happy. People are very nice."
Q: What is the strangest thing you have ever been asked?
A: "Where to find dry ice is one. I guess they have stuff packed on dry ice. We had a hard time finding it but now we know who has it. We get asked a lot of strange things but that's probably the strangest."
Q: Do people ever get left here?
A: "We had one lady that got left here. ... It was either Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday time. They were traveling in a motor home, two families. And one of the mothers stayed in the motor home. But while everyone else was in the center and the restroom and all, the mother decided to get out and go in there also.
"Well, everyone went back to the motor home and left and didn't know that mother was here in the bathroom. ... Mother said that was the best rest she'd ever had, but it was two-and-a-half hours before they realized she was gone. They thought she was resting."
Q: Do you ever get to travel during the holiday season or are you always here helping out?
A: "We have a rotating schedule. We rotate it so that everyone has the chance to be off. ... This year, I'm working both holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving, because it's my last time so I told them I would be happy to work. I'm retiring in February.
Q: What are your post retirement plans?
A: "Right now, I don't have any plans. I'm going to retire and spend a year or so deciding do I want to stay here or do I want to move closer to family or what. Just to enjoy gardening and being outside."
Q: What did it mean to you to win the lifetime achievement award?
A: "It was really a wonderful surprise. I was totally surprised but very honored that they would consider me for that type of award. And to name it after me was even a larger honor. It was very nice. I appreciate it."
Services: Maps, brochures, directions, coupons and reservation assistance.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Location: Off Interstate 77 South, just past Carowinds Boulevard