Pinnell touts tourism and branding at Chamber Forum
Oklahoma’s newest lieutenant governor shared the importance of tourism and branding with nearly 150 Oklahoma City business leaders at May’s Chamber Forum event.
Matt Pinnell, the 17th lieutenant governor of the state of Oklahoma, also serves as secretary of Tourism and Branding for the state. As such, Pinnell has direct oversight of how the Tourism and Recreation Department will market the state of Oklahoma as a visitor destination, and he also plays an important role in how the state develops its brand on a national and international scale.
Pinnell said that tourism is the front door to economic development.
“For people to see this state that we have, to get them off roads and bridges and spending money, critical sales tax dollars in our communities across 77 counties…the way to do that is tourism.”
Saying that something magical happens when we get people off roads and bridges in Oklahoma, the lieutenant governor emphasized that taking charge of the message of who and what Oklahoma is all about is vital for the state economy.
“Because, as you know and I know, if we don't define who we are as a state, I assure you that every other state in this country is. There's 49 other states that are defining who Oklahoma is and it's not who we are,” he said.
Pinnell said that more money is needed for advertising.
“When it comes to tourism and marketing the state, our brand right now, the only brand that we really have from a statewide perspective are the ads that we're running out of the tourism department,” he said.
“We spend most of that money in Texas because we make most of our money on baby boomers from Texas. The entire campaign is $2.3 million.”
How does that compare with other states' marketing efforts?
“I don't know what's in Michigan, but there must be a lot in Michigan because 'Tim the Toolman Taylor' tells us about it. He's the narrator of those ads. Twenty-eight million dollars a year--[the] Pure Michigan campaign,” he noted.
According to Pinnell, Texas spends $41 million a year, $10 million internationally. And, Texas also has relatively few miles of the most famous road in the world, which Pinnell says is a goldmine for Oklahoma. There are plans underway to tap into that “mine.”
“We have more drivable miles of the most famous road in the world than any other state in the country, and that would be Route 66. It's authentic America,” he said.
“We should also be making a whole lot of money on Route 66 and so we're putting a master plan inside the Department of Tourism specific to Route 66. We've never done this before, bringing all communities, every community, four hundred plus miles across the state, together at the History Center to put a master plan together for Route 66. It's an absolute goldmine for the state and we should be doing so much more from a marketing perspective. But $2.3 million is not going to get it done.”
Pinnell applauded the efforts of the OKC Convention & Visitors Bureau, saying that they are “killing it.”
“We generate 650 million dollars in state and local tax revenue off tourism,” he said. “It's the third-largest industry in the state. A lot of it's driven by Oklahoma City…they are absolutely killing it.”
Pinnell said that cities like OKC, Tulsa, Stillwater, Enid and Guymon are having do their own marketing. But he is confident that is about to change.
“I can tell you that I'm optimistic, moving forward, that we're going be able to get a larger marketing budget, some of those appropriated dollars,” he said. “I'm fighting for it every day. But usually, when I talk about tourism, I have to start with that marketing budget because you get what you pay for. And I'm getting all that money back when we tell our story, if we're telling it the right way.”
The lieutenant governor touted a little-known tourist sector – Agri-tourism.
“Today, in this country, people want to know where their food is coming from much more than any time in U.S. history,” he said, citing the farm-to-table movement. “Oklahoma City is a perfect example of this. You can get every opportunity, every urban opportunity that you would ever want right here in Oklahoma City. And then, you got Luther, one of our best Agri-tourism communities in the entire state. All the small-town charm that anyone would ever want is in Luther, Oklahoma and they have amazing restaurants, they’ve got the farm-to-table movement. They've got farms that you can go to pick the blue and blackberries, all of that is just, I mean, 15-20 minutes outside of town. We have got to connect those dots for visitors. The convention-goers love this. To be able to be shown those opportunities there, just a few minutes outside of town.”
Pinnell said that most states can’t do that, not even in Texas.
“Too long of a drive. Most of the time in Oklahoma we can do that and that's why we have people from Dallas and Houston that now spend weekend getaways in Oklahoma City. Because it's just as good of restaurants, it's just as good about outdoor activities and they don't have to wait two hours for a restaurant and it's not a two-hour commute to and from inside or outside Oklahoma City downtown.”
He also said that state parks are a priority for the future as part of a coordinated marketing strategy which will highlight the things that make Oklahoma unique.
“No state can match our heritage and our history,” he said. “There is not another state that can match our heritage and our history as a state. From our Native American history, from Route 66, from small towns, urban America, we have it all as a state when it comes to tourism assets. But we've got to take much more advantage of them.”