The Discover Denton Welcome Center kicked off its grand opening month on the 4th of July. After months of preparation, we opened “softly” on June 21, without a lot of fanfare. Never-the-less, word spread fast. We are already averaging 200 visitors a day, and several hundred on nights and weekends.
The most often asked question I get these days is, “What do people want to know when they visit the welcome center?” Tourism is strong in Denton, to the tune of half a million visitors per year based on hotel room inventory, occupancy and average daily rates in Denton. Locals are interested in who they are, so I went to the best resource to find out: our Dentoning Experts.
On my way to the visitor center one day, I detoured to Sonic for a drink. While waiting for my order, the drama unfolding in the car next to me caught my attention. An Asian lady wrangling a camera was struggling out of the car. Once free, she took a selfie in front of the Sonic menu board. The embarrassed driver of the car shouted, “She’s never seen a Sonic! It’s on her bucket list!” A carhop on roller skates paused, smiling for another of the girl’s selfies.
Who would imagine Sonic would be a thing for someone? That’s how it is with visitors, though. They find excitement in things we hardly notice because we see them all the time.
Robyn is a Dentoning Expert who met Nigel from Great Britain and his friend from Chicago in the Welcome Center. Both were attending a week-long meeting in Denton. It was Nigel’s first time to America and his friend’s first-ever visit to Denton. Nigel’s bucket list to-dos? A real Texas experience: eat at Whataburger and go to Wal-Mart.
Remembering the lady at the Sonic, I’m thinking, “Really?” as Robyn relayed the story.
“What did you tell him?” I asked.
“I sent him to buy American flag swimming trunks and head to the lake with his Whataburger,” Robyn said matter-of-factly. So that’s what the fellows did.
On one of her expert shifts, Rachel met a couple of UNT alums who recently moved back to Denton after 30 years away. “We loved it then, and it still has the same vibe,” they said. “But it’s a happening place now, more modern, yet still Denton.” They loaded up on souvenirs to send to friends.
Rachel also met a fellow on vacation in Denton from Los Angeles, showing off his alma mater (UNT) to the wife and kids. He bought the whole family #dentoning T-shirts.
Another expert, Katherine assisted a family from Longview, Texas who came from East Texas to Denton for the weekend specifically to see the Welcome Center mural, painted by their friend Dan Black. Their Denton itinerary was visiting all of Dan’s murals around our city.
Expert supervisor, Chelsea, says the question she gets most often from visitors is what to do “right now,” while they wait for an event or show to start. “I’ve been amazed how many Dentonites don’t realize a museum is in the courthouse. A lot of people think it’s just a historic building we are preserving!” she exclaimed.
Chelsea shared a daytrippers-from-Dallas story. Art teachers and enthusiasts, they came to experience the art culture and craft beer scene they’d heard about. Chelsea sent them to UNT on the Square, Harvest House and then the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center. They discovered the Denton they expected.
Recently, I met a lady and her grown son in the welcome center. They’d just arrived in Denton from Turkey on assignment at the UNT Research Center. “How do we meet people?” she asked in broken English. “My son speaks none and mine is not good. We want to make friends. And I need a haircut.” Tricky situation, this. I suggested an English tutor and I gave her a restaurant guide, recommending she visit those specializing in her native cuisine. She brightened, and I gave her my hairdresser’s phone number, too.
The answer to the question about questions is they are all over the board from all kinds of people.
A local man had this to say: “I didn't know what to expect of our visitor center. I travel a lot in my work, and I visit a lot of visitor centers. I guessed ours would be similar, some brochures...the end. But this? Wow. This far exceeds anything I imagined was happening in here. This is a visitor center plus plus. Y'all did a great job and thought of everything.”
Thank you! We think so too.