By Debby Woodin
Businesses and communities along historic Route 66 should advertise what they have that is unique to draw more tourism, members of the Route 66 Alliance were advised at a conference Friday in Joplin.
The conference, involving business owners and members of state Route 66 associations and others, is part of the Route 66 International Festival under way in the Joplin area.
A survey of tourists on Route 66 suggested a need for more family-friendly and pet-friendly businesses willing to provide hospitality to travelers of the Mother Road, said Rick Freeland, co-director of the alliance, in an economic development seminar on Friday morning at Joplin’s City Hall, 602 S. Main St.
Route 66’s original route ran through central Joplin from what is now Range Line Road at Zora Street through the Royal Heights neighborhood to Langston Hughes-Broadway, west to Main Street, and south to Seventh Street where it went west to Kansas.
“Make your town a destination,” said Freeland, by encouraging the growth or start-ups of eating and drinking establishments and motels, and being prepared to talk to guests about what they enjoy and pointing them in the direction of sights they may want to visit.
International travelers are still coming in large numbers to follow the nation’s first paved highway linking Chicago to Los Angeles. Michael Wallis, author, actor and co-founder of the alliance, said China and Brazil are providing a new burst of international tourists.
On the route, “the world will pass right by your door” and provide a business opportunity, Wallis said. “It is a road of barter and trade.”
People can make international tourists more comfortable by addressing them in their native languages, even as simple as being able to say hello, conference attendees were told.
While a lot of the Route 66 activities and merchandising has been attractive to men, business owners could bring in more tourists in by doing things for children, such as having activities or games available. Today, many people travel with their pets, and not catering to those travelers is a mistake. Freeland said store owners can provide a doggie stop — a bowl of water and a biscuit — to win the appreciation of guests.
Communities should advertise their family friendly amenities such as places to entertain children and shopping venues for the women.
Geocaching is another way to put a place on the Route 66 map. Placing a location to search for on GPS and perhaps providing a small prize for those who locate it is a way to cash in on a growing sector of travelers.
Promote history and heritage as well as the unusual, participants were advised.
“What people are looking for is your story,” said Kaisa Barthuli, director of the National Parks System’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. “People are looking for that authentic experience” and Americana.
Some of the things Freeland said that will be of interest to travelers are places that have famous residents, historic items or sites, and paranormal experiences.
“If you have a haunted building in your town, let everybody know and they will seek you out,” Freeland said.
Even unusual foods such as an alligator chili that was to be served on Friday at a chili cook-off on the Kansas-Missouri state line between Galena and Joplin are a way to pull in people.
Another way is photographic opportunities. “People like to have their pictures taken with something,” Freeland said.
Joplin and Galena have done that by installing Route 66 murals that are being featured during the festival.
Business owners also should talk to city and state governments about what grants may be available to them and how to apply for them to grow their opportunities.