Archive for Friday, May 24, 2002

Outfit hopes to rope tourists

May 24, 2002

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In Kansas, tourism is all about giving people what they want. So forget about Dorothy and that scraggly dog.

Bring on the Longhorns.

"A lot of people today are looking for a real-life, hands-on cowboy experience, and we'd like to make it happen," said Rob Phillips, who runs the Eldridge Hotel and the Victorian Veranda Country Inn, a bed and breakfast north of town.

Starting June 1, Phillips and his crew will let tourists spend a couple of hours on horseback, driving a small herd of Longhorn cattle ? 10 cows and 7 calves ? from the rolling pasture behind the inn. They staged a trial run Thursday.

"I really think this is the kind of thing people are looking for," Phillips said.

State tourism officials couldn't agree more.

"Last year, 69 percent of the calls we got from people who were coming to Kansas ? the first thing they asked about was recreating the cowboy experience," said Jeff Mercer, director of the Division of Travel and Tourism at the state Department of Commerce and Housing.

"Part of what's going on here today is a coming together of resources to take advantage of that niche market."

Tourism added $3.8 billion to the state's economy last year, Mercer said.

"A lot of people don't realize it's the state's third-largest industry, behind agriculture and aviation," he said. "Fifty-three thousand jobs are tied to tourism."

The practice run Thursday coincided with a meeting of the Cowboy Coalition, an association Phillips started about three months ago to refer people to Kansas attractions that offer Old West-type experiences.

"There's already the Kansas Cowtown Coalition that pretty much promotes what goes on in those towns," Phillips said. "We'd like this (association) to take on the whole thing. It's for people who love cowboys."

Cities in the Kansas Cowtown Coalition include Abilene, Caldwell, Dodge City, Ellsworth, Newton and Wichita.

The Cowboy Coalition had its third official meeting Wednesday evening at the Eldridge Hotel, drawing about 50 people, including Derral Sommerfield, president of Flint Hills Overland Wagon Train in El Dorado, a company that takes groups on weekend camping trips in the Flint Hills.

"People are looking for history they can be part of," Sommerfield said. "There's a lot of that to be had in Kansas, we just need to let people known about it."

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