With an understanding of the industry’s economic power — both as a business recruitment tool and a vital element of state and community pride — Kansas legislators have made several recent moves to bolster the state’s vital tourism sector even as the effects of the pandemic continue to challenge the industry.
Before the pandemic in 2019, tourism directly supported more than 66,000 jobs and brought in $7.3 billion to the state and was the 9th largest employer in the state. In 2020, while the pandemic reduced travel around the globe, Kansas Tourism developed new marketing strategies that inspire exploration of Kansas for residents and visitors. These efforts include the “To The Stars” tagline that builds on the Kansas motto Ad Astra Per Aspera. Kansas Tourism also unveiled a new website making it easier for travelers to plan an unforgettable Kansas vacation.
Earlier this year, Governor Laura Kelly announced the reorganization of the Kansas Tourism Division under the Kansas Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce features several tools designed to increase tourism into the state, including the Kansas Athletic Commission and the STAR Bonds program.
“Moving the Tourism division into the Department of Commerce sends a clear message to our industry partners and prospective companies that my administration will use every tool at our disposal to spur new economic growth,” Governor Kelly said. “This realignment will support our businesses, our tourism industry, and will play a significant role in our COVID-19 recovery efforts.”
Governor Kelly issued an Executive Reorganization Order in response to input from businesses, destination marketing organizations and other key industry partners, including the Travel Industry Association of Kansas (TIAK), the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association (KRHA), and the Kansas Economic Development Alliance (KEDA), which all agreed it is best to consolidate Kansas’ tourism efforts and economic development initiatives.
“Tourism is ultimately about economic development, so it makes perfect sense to have tourism housed within the state’s economic development agency,” Lt. Governor/Commerce Secretary Toland said. “I’m excited to welcome the Kansas Tourism team to the Department of Commerce as we work to achieve Governor Kelly’s vision for faster growth and stronger local economies across the state.”
Momentum grows with $3.5-million grant
In November, Gov. Kelly announced the state received $3.5 million in grant funding to accelerate travel, tourism and outdoor recreation in the state. The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration as part of the $750 million American Rescue Plan Travel, Tourism & Outdoor Recreation program, which provides $510 million in State Tourism grants and $240 million in Competitive Tourism grants that will be awarded to advance the economic recovery and resiliency of communities where the travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries were hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Kansas is ripe with opportunity to grow our tourism industry as we emerge from this pandemic,” Kansas Tourism Director Bridgette Jobe said. “Infusing these additional dollars into our statewide marketing and development strategies will bring economic benefits for many years in the future.”
Kansas will use these funds to inject immediate momentum into the Kansas tourism industry. The $3.5 million will be invested in four strategic areas:
“Of the many revelations we’ve realized as a result of this pandemic, none may be more clear to us than the very real value of Kansas’ state parks,” said Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Secretary Brad Loveless. “This $250,000 investment comes at a perfect time to improve facilities, increase capacity, and to welcome the many who have yet to camp out-of-doors and need a comfortable introduction.”