On March 11, the Lawrence Journal-World published an editorial criticizing state tourism officials for inadequately promoting the Flint Hills as a tourist destination. While I appreciate the editorial board's interest in the topic, I was disappointed with their assessment of the state's marketing of the Flint Hills. The simple truth is that the Travel and Tourism Division of the Kansas Department of Commerce has made the promotion of the Flint Hills a priority for the past three years and will continue that commitment well into the future. In fact, state tourism officials, with the support of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, are more involved today in the Flint Hills than ever before.
The Travel and Tourism Division is the state's lead travel industry development organization and strives to create a coherent, statewide vision for tourism in the Flint Hills and throughout Kansas. While embracing a leadership role, we recognize the importance of deferring to local leaders and tourism operators whenever possible and empowering them to take charge of tourism in their regions. At the state level, we are most effective when we are encouraging partnerships between local groups, providing them with resources, research and expertise when necessary and helping them along the way. Ultimately, however, we want locals to take charge of - and credit for - tourism initiatives in their backyards.
This philosophy has led to wonderful partnerships and amazing successes in recent years. A shining example is the creation of the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, which includes tourism groups from the 22 Flint Hills counties, the Flint Hills Resource Conservation and Development and our Travel and Tourism Division. Using a Commerce-funded study as a blueprint, the coalition has already done wonders for tourism in the region by developing a marketing plan for the Flint Hills that includes a consistent brand image and logo, a new Web site, exhibits and publications. The coalition has worked to collect and preserve heritage stories and is also reaching out to national groups that can help market the region to travelers across the country and throughout the world.
In addition, the state continues to work with the coalition and other partners on the widely popular Symphony in the Flint Hills. Last year, the event drew national attention to the region and the creativity of state and local tourism officials, and this year's show, slated for June 16, has already sold out all general admission tickets. Most recently, Travel and Tourism staff worked with National Geographic magazine photographer Jim Richardson to coordinate a statewide traveling exhibit of his 22-page Flint Hills spread that appears in the April edition of the magazine.
A quick visit to the Division's Web site, www.TravelKS.com, reveals more promotion of the Flint Hills. In fact, the Hills are a key component of the division's hugely popular Ready-Made Adventures campaign, which offers travelers theme-based travel itineraries. The Flint Hills are also routinely featured in the Kansas Visitors Guide and KANSAS! magazine, both of which have national and worldwide audiences.
The Travel and Tourism Division also partners with other state agencies in support of the Flint Hills. In 2006, the Kansas Lottery launched the Flint Hills Treasures game, which offers players a chance to win one of five Flint Hills trips, each with a different theme. Additionally, the Kansas Department of Transportation is currently involved in the design and installation of new roadside gateway monuments informing travelers that they're traveling through the Flint Hills.
The Flint Hills are an absolute treasure with limitless potential to attract visitors and bolster the Kansas economy. Gov. Sebelius realized this immediately upon taking office, and her stewardship of state efforts to promote the region has been remarkable. The Travel and Tourism Division of the Kansas Department of Commerce remains committed to promoting the Flint Hills and continues to lead exciting and innovative efforts to share our hidden gem with the world. While the division is happy to take a leadership role when appropriate, a successful development and marketing effort for the Flint Hills ultimately depends on collaboration between state officials, local groups and community leaders. This approach is already paying big dividends for the Flint Hills, and I believe the best is yet to come.