State’s new tourism director wants people to ‘see themselves’ in Kansas

photo by: Lauren Fox

Bridgette Jobe, pictured Sept. 30, 2019, on South Kansas Avenue in Topeka, is Kansas' new director of tourism.

TOPEKA — Kansas’ new director of tourism used to have difficulty seeing herself reflected in Kansas’ advertising campaigns.

It was “outdoors focused,” she said, and apart from her love of watching Kansas sunsets, Bridgette Jobe doesn’t see herself as outdoorsy.

Jobe, who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and still lives there, wants Kansas’ advertising to reflect the diversity of interests Kansans hold. And while Jobe just started her new position in mid-July and has mostly been reviewing past procedures and developing a new strategic plan, she has hired a new advertising agency that she feels will foster inclusivity.

“We want our marketing to be authentic of Kansas,” Jobe said. Her agency has partnered with a Topeka advertising firm called Bajillion Agency. “We want everyone to feel welcome when they come to Kansas. So we want people to make sure that they see themselves.”

Kansas does offer the great outdoors. In fact, a new state park — Little Jerusalem Badlands — is opening this Saturday, and Jobe said she’s telling everyone it’s one of two things people have to visit this year. (More on the second later.) But Kansas also has a rich history, great cities and a diverse food scene, Jobe said. These are elements all Kansans can relate to, and she wants them reflected in future advertising.

photo by: Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park is pictured in this undated photo from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Brad Loveless, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Jobe’s boss, first met her in January, just weeks into his role. Jobe, who was then serving as executive director of the Kansas City Kansas Convention & Visitors Bureau, asked him a question he couldn’t answer. That’s when he started conversing with Jobe and discovering her knowledge of the industry.

“Here’s what I would say, and this is no baloney: I can’t think of anyone in the state of Kansas that would be a better fit for the work we have to do here than Bridgette Jobe,” Loveless said in a phone interview.

During her time in Kansas City, Kan. (21 years at the bureau, 14 as executive director), she developed sports tourism surrounding the Wyandotte Sporting Fields, a 52-acre soccer complex with 12 soccer fields.

“So you’re coming for a weekend with your kids, stay a couple extra days. Turn it into a vacation,” she said. “We want people to leave the ball field and go to the restaurants.”

She also worked to promote the American Royal and the Village West neighborhood, which includes the Kansas Speedway, Children’s Mercy Park and the Legends Outlets.

Now at the state level, Jobe is adjusting to the increased rules and regulations that come with state government.

Kansas has a tourism budget of about $4 million, Jobe said. Out of 28 states that reported their tourism budgets in 2017-2018, Kansas had the second lowest budget, following Delaware. One of her and Loveless’ goals is to convince the Legislature to give tourism more money.

“That’s why it’s so important that I build this strategic plan,” she said. “And that I show, ‘This is where we’re going. This is how we spend the dollars.’ And then we can say, ‘Now if we had more money, look what we could do.'”

Michael Davidson, executive director of Explore Lawrence, Lawrence’s travel and tourism organization, called Jobe “savvy.” He speaks with her frequently, he said, and is excited to see what develops out of the department’s new partnership with Bajillion.

According to an annual study from 2017, 35 million people come to Kansas each year for tourism, Jobe said.

The second thing that Jobe’s telling visitors they have to see this year? The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home in Abilene. It’s “world class,” she said. “You have to go see it.”

This Aug. 4, 2012 file photo shows a large bronze statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower that stands over the grounds of his presidential library, museum and boyhood home in Abilene.

photo by: Associated Press

This Aug. 4, 2012 file photo shows a large bronze statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower that stands over the grounds of his presidential library, museum and boyhood home in Abilene.

Recently, Jobe traveled the 13 miles of the historic Route 66 that go through Kansas. Along the way, she stopped in different towns to chat with residents. “It was the best couple of hours I’ve had,” she said, “of just finding out more about their towns.”

But her favorite thing to do on a regular basis in Kansas is to sit on her back deck and “watch an amazing Kansas sunset.”

“I’ve traveled so many places. I have never seen the sunsets like we have here,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. But it is peaceful, it calms my soul. It makes me love Kansas more.”


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