Yesterday, I walked the small town of Okeene, Oklahoma, through a process to help them expand their tourism potential. We used the 8 Rural Culture Elements from Kansas Sampler Foundation. I wanted to share some of the discussion with you, in hopes it will encourage you to take a fresh look at your local tourism assets.
I asked questions, and the people told me about their town. Most of the people there learned something new through the process. Here’s what we learned.
Architecture. Okeene’s Catholic Church is a stunning gem for a small town. Could we find other churches by the same architect and create a driving tour? Okeene also has several nice natural stone buildings, including the Chamber of Commerce!
Art. Beyond the one big mural, Okeene doesn’t have a lot of public visual art. They do have a huge Red Dirt Music festival that would be the envy of any small town.
Commerce. It just so happens that Wilkinson Mortuary was the business of the month at the Chamber, and we got to hear the history of how the building started as a hospital, how the original owner converted it to a mortuary, and how different families had owned it. Every business in town has a story. Those individual stories taken together tell a larger story that can draw visitors.
Cuisine. Long ago, every town had a flour mill. Okeene has one of the few remaining, now part of the Shawnee Milling Company. Their flour goes into everything from Sara Lee products to dog biscuits to the VAP specialty bakery products, made in my hometown of Alva. In more traditional cuisine, Okeene’s Whippet Stop is a wonderful old time cafe. When I asked about ethnic cuisine, everyone said, with one voice, “Delgado’s.” And if you come during the Rattlesnake Hunt, you can try the rattlesnake meat. Really.
Customs. The annual Okeene Rattlesnake Hunt is probably the best known Okeene tradition. Another annual tradition is the Whea Esta festival. It’s a cross between a local version of the county fair and a heritage festival. I live about an hour away from Okeene, and I didn’t know anything about it. I think this is their huge, undiscovered tourism gem.
Geography. Okeene is in a mostly flat area of prairie, but with plenty of wildlife and open space.
History. Okeene has a rich history. Just the story of where the town got its name is interesting. The town site is at the boundary of two Native tribal areas. Early town leaders decided to create a word, taking the “Ok” from Oklahoma, the “ee” from Cherokee, and the “ne” from Cheyenne. There is no other town in the US named Okeene. That means they can own this word online. It’s much easier to dominate the search results if you don’t have to compete with 27 other towns named Springfield.
People. This is where I ran out of time for my short presentation, but it’s clear that Okeene has a strong asset in its people.
Now that Okeene has assessed the local assets, it’s time to follow up. The Chamber of Commerce is heading in to their annual planning sessions, and I’m sure enhanced tourism will be in their plans.
There are lots more follow up ideas on the Kansas Sampler website.
So the challenge to you is to gather a group of locals plus a new comer or two, go through the 8 elements, list off some of your most untapped assets, and find new ways to bring visitors to your town.
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This is one of the most interesting and informative reviews I’ll read it a long, long time. If it were not so cold, I’d want to jump in the car and visit Okeene, OK
Becky, you told about them, not so much about you. That is one of the many things I like about you and your business practises. Too many times “consultants” just use their sites, blogs etc for hard sales.
Looking forward to hearing what Okeene does next.
Becky McCray says
Thank you, MissDazey. It’s fun to get a group like that to talk about themselves, to share and learn. And I know much more about them now than I did when I got there!
Joanne Steele says
Hats off to you and to Marci Penner at Kansas Sampler! Your and Marci’s approach is so helpful in moving small town residents to realize that visitors are going to love them just the way they are!
What I really found fascinating and useful what the process for analyzing the tourism assets. Sometimes these assets aren’t apparent to locals because that’s what they have always known. I do hope that you follow up by letting us know Okeene’s strategy and how it has affected them.
Becky McCray says
Full credit for the 8 Rural Culture Elements goes to the Kansas Sampler Foundation. I only borrowed their approach, because I can’t imagine coming up with a better one!
Sherri with the Okeene Chamber has forwarded this write up to all their members, so I hope they will be motivated to follow up with some new actions.
Sue Hershkowitz-Coore says
Becky, Great post! And, any chance that you, your mother or grandmother may remember a bunch of kids with a broken down bus in the mid-60’s? I was on a cross-country trip with Wel-Met Camps, and our bus broke down. We spent 3 days camping in your park and you were the nicest folks ever! Still talk about the hospitality shown to a bunch of NY kids in desperate situation! Thank you!
Becky McCray says
Sue, was this in Okeene? I’ll pass your comment along to the Okeene Chamber, and see if anyone remembers. :)
Nice post Becky. The Kansas Sampler Foundation is onto something big with this idea because their approach helps tourists “get rural.” Too often people travel through rural places and don’t understand what they see. They then assume there’s nothing there.
But when we “crowdsource” the promotional process using the KSF model, I think we get a more “authentic” portrayal of our rural communities. And that’s a winning tourism strategy for rural communities to pursue.
Fascinating! I currently live in Cincinnati, which is a larger community than what you’ve described, but which faces many similar tourism challenges. I really appreciate your common-sense approach to what communities can do to better understand and showcase their assets.
Becky McCray says
Thanks, Mike. You should also look at the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s other programs, including the awesome Kansas Explorers Club.
VisuaLingual, we have more similarities that most people realize, and we have lots to share with each other. Thanks for looking around our little corner of the rural world!
My Arizona small town is a mess. We are going to become a ghost town and/or absorbed into the County if we can’t generate revenue. The Town Council and Chamber are full of power plays, bickering and a Good Ol’ Boy attitude. We have no “quaintness” factor, no historical buildings, and not even a downtown center. Our business core consists of mixed-use buildings sprawled this way and that up and down the highway. However, we DO have a rich agricultural base that I’m positive can generate tourist income if approached correctly. I presented a proposal based on the “thematic approach” to tourism. My oral presentation was met with applause at the town meeting. But the Good Ol’ Boys still seem to favor big box stores and factories as the answer to our economic woes, and the Chamber does nothing but point tourists to the surrounding towns that supposedly have more to offer. Is there a way to circumvent a self-destructing Council and Chamber? Wheels spin around here, but nothing productive EVER gets done. I’m just a “lowly” female citizen with a good brain, a great plan and enthusiasm. Can anybody suggest how I can proceed when I’m up against the Good Ol’ Boys?
Becky McCray says
Anonymous, I’m going to start a new post on this, and invite everyone to brainstorm along.