Oklahoma’s rich Native American history and Western culture has long attracted visitors to the Sooner State, but growing segments of tourism focusing on agriculture, medicine, genealogy and more are giving visitors a plethora of new reasons to visit.
The Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department recently launched a new brochure and feature on its website called the Long Road to Liberty showcasing the state’s unique African-American history. Oklahoma is home to several towns that were founded as all-black communities, and highlighting them is part of a new sector of tourism that focuses on genealogical research, says Kim Caplinger, director of public policy and research at the Tourism Department.
“Genealogy is the fastest growing hobby in the US and as individuals across the nation catch the fever and begin researching their ancestry, many find that the road leads to Oklahoma,” Caplinger says. “Home to 39 federally recognized Indian tribes, countless waves of pioneer settlers and the genesis of the great Okie migration during the Dust Bowl days, Oklahoma holds the keys to unlocking many family histories.”
Popular Native American sights include the Red Earth Museum in Oklahoma City and Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. Cowboy culture can be experienced at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and Woolaroc Ranch, Museum and Wildlife Preserve in Bartlesville.
For those looking to take an active role in Oklahoma’s cowboy culture, agritourism may be of interest. From staying at a guest ranch to participating in a farm-to-table program to learn about the source of your food, agritourism is something that the whole family can enjoy based on interests.
The program, which started in 2006, helps producers start their business and promotes agritourism destinations across the state. Last year, the agritourism program launched 10 wine trails featuring 30 wineries across the state grouped by proximity.
Based on sample statistics at 150 agritourism destinations, an Oklahoma State University study found that Oklahoma saw 2.7 million agritourism visits in 2014. More than one-quarter of visitors are from outside Oklahoma, according to the study.
Tourism, overall, is big business for the state. According to the US Travel Association, expenditures by domestic and international travelers in Oklahoma topped $7.5 billion in 2013 — the most recent year available — which is an increase of 26 percent since 2009. The industry also accounts for nearly 80,000 jobs in the state with a payroll of more than $2 million, representing 7 percent of the state’s total non-farm employment, according to Caplinger.
Health and Wellness
Helping to keep the mind and body fit and healthy is another reason people are drawn to Oklahoma.
Medical tourism, in which a patient travels to receive treatment not available in their hometown, has been growing in Oklahoma City thanks to ProCure Proton Therapy Center, one of only 13 proton therapy centers in the US.
The center, which offers proton therapy to kill tumors, has treated patients from 36 states and 13 countries, in addition to more than 1,200 Oklahomans since it opened in 2009, says Dr. Andrew Chang, radiation oncologist at ProCure Proton Therapy Center.
Partnerships with local hotels and apartment complexes make it easy for patients from out of state or out of the country to find lodging before they arrive, Chang says, and get-togethers and sightseeing trips offer patients a chance to learn about Oklahoma while undergoing treatment.
Meanwhile, The Canebrake, located in Wagoner, is luring yoga enthusiasts and others looking for a relaxing getaway at an eco-friendly resort. Co-owned by Lisa and Sam Bracken, The Canebrake attracts a local, national and international clientele, and is poised to complete a $2-million renovation and expansion that will add 9,000 sq. ft. to the resort, including additional treatment rooms, a fitness studio, a club room and more; an 1,800-sq.-ft. pool; and a FEMA-approved storm shelter.
“We don’t believe you should have to travel across the country to places like L.A. or New York City to have an incredible dining, spa or yoga experience,” says Lisa Bracken. “It’s right here at home.”
Opportunities abound in Oklahoma as new alliances, technologies and programs bring big ideas, skilled workers and financial incentives to The Sooner State.