Opening up experiences for Davis & Elkins College Hospitality Club students, the Elkins Depot Welcome Center welcomes young professionals from D&E. Through a partnership with Melanie Campbell, Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management and the Elkins Depot Welcome Center, students are given the opportunity to step into the world of visitor services. Students gain real-life experiences through a professional experiential-learning environment and learn about the unique history of Elkins and the railroad. Community immersion and connecting students with downtown Elkins provides them with a comprehensive understanding of local tourism and the many facets of operating a welcome center in conjunction with a tourist attraction.
Interacting with over 15,000 visitors in November and December alone, the Elkins Depot Welcome Center helps show students the vital impact of a welcome center, its value in promoting downtown businesses while also serving the community through the involvement with events and through partnerships with Randolph County schools, Elkins Main Street, Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, Mountain Arts District, and the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce.
The mission of the Elkins Depot Welcome Center is to create a complete tourist experience for the visitor. The simple suggestion of a city map can change the whole experience for a visitor by easing travel anxiety, and D&E students are able to observe and initiate recommendations and conversations with tourists. Students assist the Welcome Center’s trained staff and volunteers and encourage visitors to walk downtown and through the doors of local businesses.
In addition to learning how a Welcome Center serves the public, students are educated on the importance of having a variety of resources available for tourists in different forms to accommodate the ever-changing technological advances of the modern world. Maintaining an online presence through social media and the management of a blog and website in addition to having in-hand brochures, magazines, and printed materials from all over the state of West Virginia is important to different audiences. Providing directions, recommendations, and a clean and welcoming environment, a Welcome Center serves as a first point of contact for many tourists, and first impressions matter. A pleasant and informative visit allows for the visitor to move on to their next attraction, whether that is a restaurant or shop, a show at a local theater, or a scenic train excursion.
Regarding the partnership, Melanie Campbell adds, “The Depot experience is a great opportunity afforded to our students of the Hospitality Management program. Students have the opportunity to visit this wonderful location and experience hospitality services here in our community as well as gain hands-on experience for internships. Students can choose to go on a busy Saturday during fall leaf season, Mountain State Forest Festival time, or the Polar Express season. We are grateful to the leadership of the Depot team.
Elizabeth Morrison completed her internship in November, accumulating eighty hours with the Welcome Center. Her dedication and passion for hospitality was apparent through her time spent with volunteers and staff. “Liz is gifted with the public and was an incredible asset throughout her time at the Center,” says Tom Rosier, Welcome Center volunteer.
In addition to Morrison, other D&E students continue to contribute their time to the Welcome Center. Chef Melanie Campbell adds, “Annually the entire Introduction to Hospitality Class is required to job shadow at the Welcome Center in the Fall. I take the students around town the second week of class and introduce them to local attractions. We stop at the Welcome Center so students understand Elkin’s hospitality and tourism opportunities for traveling guests. In addition, students are able to connect and network with hospitality and tourism sites here in Elkins, WV. Then students are asked to go back to the Welcome Center to work side by side with the volunteers and staff and welcome guests to our community as part of the practicum for the class requirements.”
“It is a win-win for all of us,” says Anne Beardslee, Welcome Center Executive Director. “Students, volunteers, and staff all learn from one another. We love connecting and look forward to continuing this partnership.”