UNIVERSITY PARK -- The Mall at University Town Center is going international.
But you don't have to travel too far to feel welcome.
Visit Sarasota County is prepared for shoppers from Fort Myers to France inside the new mall with a staffed information kiosk by the west mall entrance.
Sarasota Visitors Center staff will help with information and tips on hotels, dining, cultural attractions and even the beaches.
Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley said her department will provide tips for tourists when visitors enter the mall.
"Our goal is to make sure that when someone gets off (Interstate) 75, they don't go right back on" after shopping, Haley said. "We want them to start exploring our whole region. It's really the gateway of our area."
To supplement its staff, Visit Sarasota County has hired two new part-time employees.
The tourism agency is expanding its Visitors Center operations and is seeking additional volunteers to greet visitors. The trained volunteer ambassadors, about 40 so far, will receive specialized training in sports, nature, culture and other tourism interests, Haley said.
The Mall at University Town Center has partnered with several retailers and restaurants to provide out-of-town guests special offers and discounts as part of a Passport to Shopping program.
Visitors traveling from more than 50 miles away can visit the customer service desk to pick up their Passport and learn more about the program that includes a special gift with purchase just for shopping at the mall.
Don't be surprised if you see German, French or Spanish words when you go to one of the seven interactive directories at the mall, too. The touchscreen navigates shoppers in their native tongue from their current location to the store of their choice, according to mall officials.
One feature the mall will lack at first is a foreign currency exchange. That feature might be added in the future if the demand is there, according to mall officials.