SE Kansas counties join forces on tourism

? The state’s tourism center is firmly in Wyandotte County, which boasts most of Kansas’ biggest draws.

But while southeast Kansas has no racetrack, minor league baseball or outdoor superstores, tourism officials say there is still plenty to draw visitors.

The key, they say, is presenting a unified package to potential visitors.

“As individuals, it’s hard to compete with larger towns like Kansas City,” said Hollie Yoho, president of the Woodson County Chamber of Commerce and president of the Southeast Kansas Tourism coalition. “But as a group, we are as good of destination spot as any.”

The Southeast Kansas Tourism Coalition has been around since 1978, but it wasn’t until last year that cooperation took a step forward onto the Internet.

The group created a Web site that promotes the area as one tourist destination, while also breaking down the region by county. The coalition publishes a booklet focusing on day trips, again containing information about each county.

“We are now starting to look into northeast Arkansas, southeast Missouri and Oklahoma,” said Craig Hull, director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When all those people go on vacation, they have to go somewhere. So, why can’t that somewhere be southeast Kansas?”

The most recent effort is a public service television ad, to be distributed to local and regional stations.

“We have museums, zoos, pieces of history from almost every era and we have outdoor and nature attraction,” Hull said. “We may not have roller coasters, but we have a wide array to offer. And because of that, we are learning to play toward our strengths and market what we do offer.”

While he still has a responsibility to push Crawford County as a destination in itself, Hull said, he also has no problem promoting other attractions in the area.

“I have no problem talking about and promoting other counties,” Hull said. “I believe the same would be done for me. Plus, part of a coalition is to know what everyone has and push those pieces as one big package.”

The coalition also is looking forward to the reopening of Frontenac’s dog track and the development of a destination casino in Crawford County or Cherokee County.

“A casino is going to benefit everybody,” Yoho said. “People traveling to the casino will have to stop and buy gas, and when they do that they will more than likely see pamphlets about the region, which will, hopefully, entice them to come back. It really is a win-win situation for everyone in southeast Kansas.”