Tourism professionals became part-time tourists Thursday when the Tourism Industry Association of Kansas executive committee met at the community center in Marion.
“When we pulled into Marion County today, wow, what a beautiful county it is, and what a beautiful community Marion is,” Karen Hibbard, vice president of Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “What I saw when I came in was a community that is very proud of its heritage and is eager to tell that story.”
It was the first visit to Marion for Bridgette Jobe, the executive director of Kansas City, Kansas Convention and Tourism Bureau.
“A meeting brought me here, but I’m probably going to spend some dollars while I’m here, and that’s tourism,” she said. “I’ve already scoped out a couple of antique stores.”
Marion County economic development director Teresa Huffman, who is on TIAK’s governing board, arranged to have the group meet here.
“A lot of them hadn’t been here,” Huffman said. “They got to tour the Elgin Hotel; they were very intrigued and had a lot of questions. We spent a great deal of time talking about places here in Marion County, anything from the Harvey House in Florence to the Goessel museum.”
Marion County took in just one percent of money spent by visitors to the 17-county Flint Hills region in 2013, a Kansas Tourism Division study reported. Increasing that share will take concerted marketing, several members said.
“I wish there were a magic pill,” Jan Stevens, director of Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “You can have the best thing in the whole world, but if you don’t tell anybody, they’re not coming.”
Jobe said financial investment in marketing was essential.
“It takes money; it takes an investment,” she said. “Figure out what Marion County has, what’s going to drive people here, and let everybody know about it. It costs money to do that.”
Suzan Barnes, owner of Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls, said Chase County lost more tourism in 2013 than any other county. She attributed the loss to not having marketing dollars.
Dodge City has benefited from a boom in agriculture-related tourism, Stevens said, noting that a daily livestock auction and a dairy farm have become tourist attractions.
“There’s been a surge of that type of tourism, to find out where our food comes from,” she said. “For a small community, some things that you all take for granted are an experience for somebody who stops through.”