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VISIT FLORIDA Welcome Centers, like this one off I-10, are beginning welcome visitors again.

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Florida welcoming visitors again

Free masks, too.

The Sunshine State has reopened its welcome centers again to visitors.

Two of the centers, anyway.

The VISIT FLORIDA welcome centers on Interstate-75 coming in from Georgia and Interstate-10 coming in from Alabama were reopened Monday, VISIT FLORIDA President Dana Young told the organization’s board of directors Monday.

The welcome-center openings come after the state on June 5 ended a motorist checkpoint on I-10 near the Alabama border that was set up in late March as part of an effort to require people traveling from Louisiana, then a COVID-19 hotspot, to self-isolate if they entered Florida.

Still not open is a welcome center along Interstate 95 and a VISIT FLORIDA kiosk inside the Florida Capitol, which remains closed to walkup visitors.

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The I-95 welcome center is located just north of a weigh station being used as a COVID-19 checkpoint for motorists from the disease hotspots of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The centers all were closed in late March and early April at the height of the first fears of the coronavirus crisis. Gov. Ron DeSantis shut down visitation from the New York area, and from other places, and began requiring visitors from hotspots to undergo two weeks of self-quarantine if they came to Florida. By then, most of Florida’s tourist attractions were closed anyway, as tourism hit a hard stop.

“It’s been a long road for those welcome centers. I-95 will remain closed for now. But when that checkpoint is removed, at I-95, that one will be reopening as well,” Young told her board. “I-10 and I-75 will be operating with hand-sanitizing, social distancing measures, of course, as laid out by public health officials.”

She said she expects an update on I-95 “in the coming days.”

In addition, VISIT FLORIDA received nearly a half-million masks from the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Those will be provided to welcome center staff and free to any visitors that might ask for them throughout the summer, Young said.

“It’s helpful to people that might not have brought them. There still are many places where you need a mask in Florida,” she said.

Young said she did not have an update on how the welcome centers’ reopening were going, but “I would be pretty surprised if the response was not 100% positive.” She promised a report at next week’s full board meeting.

The opening of the centers comes as Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, is finalizing a “rebounder” marketing campaign that will initially concentrate on getting Floridians to become comfortable traveling in the state.

“This includes an in-state effort promoting state pride and travel by Floridians, and out-of-state effort reminding potential travelers about the uniquely transformative power of a Florida vacation,” Young said.

As part of the marketing campaign, which is slated to go before the organization’s Board of Directors next week, Visit Florida, working with the governor’s office, has applied for $8 million from the federal government to help local destination marketing organizations, Young said.

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Content from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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