JOPLIN, Mo. —
The director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau said he is committed to providing a map of the tornado zone with information about key points despite more public controversy generated by it, this time by reports on The Weather Channel.
Mayor Mike Woolston said Monday that the city does not intend to make money off “disaster tourism,” but that it will not turn away anyone who wants to see the recovery effort “and celebrate the success with us.”
The Weather Channel on Sunday broadcast reports and an editorial by one of its personalities, Mike Bettes. He scolded the CVB, asserting that it is capitalizing on the tragedy to attract tourism to the city. Bettes was in Joplin on Sunday to attend ceremonies marking the demolition of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed by the May 22 storm, and a groundbreaking for its successor.
The CVB’s page on Facebook as well as The Weather Channel’s page lit up with public comments, mainly criticism of the CVB and its director, Patrick Tuttle. The mayor said some of the reports regarding the map are exaggerated, and Tuttle said some of the details are incorrect.
The Weather Channel lists only email addresses for contacting its media spokesmen and on-air personalities. A message seeking comment was not returned Monday.
A handful of those who posted comments complained that Tuttle had tried to contact them via Facebook messages. Tuttle said he was trying to discuss with them the CVB’s intent.
“Our Facebook is a tourism piece,” he said. “It’s not designed to be a hate page. I reached out to three of them asking them to have a conversation. They were going off news stories that weren’t 100 percent accurate, and they threw it back in my face.”
Tuttle said the map, which shows the entire tornado zone and marks the sites of St. John’s, Joplin High School, the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” houses and others, was made because travelers were asking for directions to them.
Visitors also were asking questions about the storm and its effects, he said. Details about the tornado and its impact are listed on the back of the map. Tuttle said the city wants to get out correct details so that volunteers and travelers are not misinformed.
“The need for the map is still there,” he said. “I haven’t been convinced otherwise.”
He said the purpose is so that motel and restaurant workers and those at a state information center on Interstate 44 can provide the map to visitors or hand it out when questions or directions are asked. He said the map is intended to help direct volunteers who come to Joplin to work as much as it is designed for travelers.
“It was never, ever designed as a marketing tool,” Tuttle said. “It’s a tool to educate the volunteers who come here and to empower the people who work within the travel industry” to give out accurate information.
The mayor said the intent of the map has been misunderstood.
“We never had planned to have bus tours or anything,” Woolston said. “That’s been exaggerated. We are not going to stop people from coming to town, and we’re not going to try to make money off this.” He said people are going to drive into the city to see the disaster zone “whether we like or not.”
“From our standpoint, we don’t mind,” he said. “If they are going to come here, we want them to see the level of success we have achieved in the recovery so they could apply it should they ever have a disaster.”
With a large part of the debris cleared and rebuilding started, and efforts to bring redevelopment in the works, “we’re in a good place right now,” the mayor said. “We invite people to come to the community and celebrate the success with us.”
A flap broke out about two weeks ago when a Springfield television reporter did a story in which he reported that the Joplin CVB had distributed a map showing traffic routes around the tornado zone, and said that cellphone programming to narrate tours and bus tours would be started in the spring.
Tuttle acknowledged that he discussed the map with the reporter and that he discussed scenarios in which various methods had been used in other cities to direct tourists around damaged areas.
The television station posted a clarification, saying that Tuttle discussed the concepts of tourism efforts in other disaster-affected cities but did not say Joplin would have bus tours.
THE JOPLIN TORNADO is regarded as one of the seven worst in U.S. history since records have been kept starting in 1950. It claimed 161 lives, and destroyed or damaged more than 7,500 homes and 500 businesses.