Earlier this month, Kansas lawmakers heard from leaders of our state’s tourism industry about the economic impact COVID-19 has had on the industry and predict a three-year recovery at least.
A recovery for our state’s tourism industry is not something that will be instantaneous, given the multitiered nature of the industry and a likely downtown turn in conventions and conferences. At the same time, we need to start looking at our state’s tourism industry and ways that we can remake how our state approaches tourism.
Tourism is more than visitors to our state’s parks, those hunting across our state and conventions. Certainly, these are very important parts of our state’s tourism industry and will always remain vital parts of this industry. Attractions like Dodge City and the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, and other museums across the state are also important parts of the tourism industry, and the pandemic has rendered them closed.
But we can look at new ways to bring tourists in to towns across our state. Travel patterns have changed this year with more people traveling on vacations by car, locally, regionally and nationally. Rentals of RVs have jumped nationwide as old-fashioned family car trips have become fashionable again. This change does not just have to help our state parks.
Kansas’ small towns have much charm and many attractions for a visitor to see, we just need to get people off the interstate and on to our state highways and byways. In Ellinwood, you can tour the underground tunnels and see a newly restored haunted inn. Lindsborg has a charming main street with stores and a chance to taste Swedish cuisine. You can even rent bikes to tour Lindsborg’s quaint tree-lined streets. With agritourism being a growing part of the American tourism industry, I can think of no better place to explore agriculture than Kansas.
This is not only something we need to do now, but long term. Tourism can be a great part of our state’s economy, benefiting our downtown businesses, restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, wineries and farms.
We need to get word out about this to people around the state and surrounding states. We can also share the attractions of Kansas to people all over the country. Kansas does not do a good job of marketing our state’s attractions, history and parks. We play second fiddle to commercials for Pure Michigan, Virginia is for Lovers and I Love New York.
Those driving across our country have to pass through Kansas, but we don’t tell them why they should get off the highway. If New York can tout rural upstate communities and Michigan can steer people to small towns in the Upper Peninsula, Kansas can certainly promote our attractions.
This is why I have suggested moving the state tourism office from the Wildlife Department to the Commerce Department, so we can make it a part of a larger marketing strategy. Other states have done this and have seen success.
Kansas tourism will bounce back, the question is when. By looking at ways to rethink our tourism industry and marketing, we can bounce back quicker and greater than before.
Wink Hartman is the CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita and the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.