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Get tourists to slow down for a small town


Linda Geist
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185

Published: Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

Story sources:

Lee Ann Woolery, 573-884-9025Connie Mefford, 660-438-5012Georgia Stuart-Simmons, 660-747-3193Larry Dickerson, 573-445-9792

MACON, Mo. – Find ways to make tourists slow down for a small town. State tourism leaders gave this advice to community leaders at a recent Cultural Heritage Tourism and the Arts workshop sponsored by University of Missouri Extension in Macon.

“You don’t have to apologize for being a small town,” said Michael Gaines, director of the Hannibal Arts Council. He said many travelers yearn for the comfort and charm of small town America.

Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain, is a leading site for cultural heritage tourism, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation defines as “traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.”

Rural communities across the country are finding economic opportunities from cultural heritage tourism, said MU Extension community arts specialist Lee Ann Woolery.

“The arts, when built on the assets of a community’s cultural and historic heritage, are opportunities, new ways to generate, attract and keep jobs,” Woolery said.

Arts activities also bring the community members together. “Building on a community’s assets, the arts can help a community to create a shared identity and cohesion, be the focal point of a community and through tourism anchor economic development,” she said.

Heritage tourists travel more frequently, spend more dollars and are more likely to support preservation endeavors financially than traditional travelers, said MU Extension community development specialist Larry Dickerson.

Walt Disney Hometown Museum volunteer Kaye Malins said the town of Marceline boosted its cultural tourism efforts to celebrate the 100th birthday of Walt Disney in 2001. Even though the celebration took place less than two weeks after 9/11, the event attracted visitors from 48 states to the original Main Street USA.

“Clean it up. Dress it up,” said MU Extension community development specialist Connie Mefford. Make your community look good and make it easy to get around the town.  Good signs are a must for successful community events. Ask city officials to give city parks an address so that smartphone users can easily locate an event.

Mefford suggested distributing printed pads of city maps at point-of-entry spots such as gas stations, motels and restaurants.

The Kirksville Chamber of Commerce offers hospitality training for convenience store attendants, one participant said.  The Chamber pays attendees in “Chamber Bucks.”

Store and hotel clerks are often the first point of contact for tourists. They can be invaluable in promoting tourism, Mefford said. Despite high turnover in these jobs, tourism still benefits.

These “goodwill ambassadors” are likely to move on to similar jobs where they will have tourist contact.

Stephen Foutes, editor of the official Missouri Travel Guide for the Missouri Division of Tourism, said mobile apps helped drive state tourism revenue up 5.4 percent in 2013. “Tourists want to see things in our rural communities,” he said. “We have a lot of gems out there.”

Georgia Stuart-Simmons, another MU Extension community development specialist, said social media complements paid advertising, printed materials, personal contact and other methods such as radio and television talk shows and speakers bureaus.

For more information about the Community Arts Project, go to