Let me tell you something, Kansans.
Our state is cool. Our state is popular.
Because our state has destinations people crave, our tourism is alive, well, and a multi-billion dollar business in Kansas.
In honor of the recent National Travel and Tourism Week, I’d like to share some facts and figures to show the strength and importance of Kansas tourism.
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In a few weeks, 2,650 bicycle riders from 49 states and many countries will descend on Emporia for an epic bike race of up to 200 miles.
NASCAR fanatics from coast to coast can’t wait to attend this year’s two NASCAR events at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
On June 9, an estimated 7,500 lovers of symphony music from across the nation will gather on a stunning Butler County pasture for Symphony in the Flint Hills.
Later in the month, country music fans will gather for Country Stampede at Tuttle Creek State Park, a three-day concert event that’s totaled up to 175,000 visitors in the past.
This fall and winter, hunters from all 50 states will experience 5 million individual days of adventure in Kansas’ uplands and marshes.
And every one of those tourists, and the millions of others not mentioned, are making all of our lives better in Kansas.
A 2016 study shows tourism adds an estimated $10.8 billion to the Kansas economy. That’s more annual income than PayPal, Mastercard and nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies.
Visitor spending directly supports over 69,000 jobs in Kansas, the equivalent of simultaneously giving a job to every undergraduate student at KU, K-State and Wichita State.
Here’s how tourism is saving every Kansan – including you – hundreds in tax dollars. Tax dollars generated on the local and state level annually generates $609 million. Without those tourism tax dollars, every Kansas household would have to spend an additional $550 in taxes to maintain the state’s current level of government.
But there’s so much room for tourism growth in Kansas. I’d like to encourage everyone to spend a little more time this year exploring what our state has to offer.
Check out any of Kansas’ 26, soon to be 28, state parks. You’ll see why some rank within the top 1 percent in America for scenic beauty.
Kansas has more than 3,000 miles of trails. Two of the best, the Flint Hills and Prairie Spirit trails, link and combine for about 150 continuous miles of hiking, biking or horseback riding, with Ozark-like woodlands on one end and 10-mile Flint Hills horizons on the other.
We have scores of fun destination cafes and restaurants, some of which have drawn national attention for their fried chicken, prime rib and rib-eyes the size of a nice beef roast.
Most wineries and breweries welcome visitors and their numbers are rising faster than the foam on a poorly poured beer. Many also offer great food, too.
Kansas has sites heavy in Civil War, western, African American and Native American history. We have science museums that are some of the best of the best.
Be sure to thank your local attractions, hoteliers, restaurants and everybody else involved in tourism in your community. What they do helps us all.
Robin Jennison is secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.