On numerous occasions during the past few months I alluded to a report on the state of the Route 66 community that was in development. Well, that report is finished and is now ready to be widely circulated in the hope that it will lead to the initiation of productive discussions as well as the development of cooperative partnerships within the international Route 66 community.
As the report is rather lengthy it will be reprinted in its entirety, including the credits and acknowledgements over the course of the next few days in several installments. Please, feel free to share it with anyone that you feel may have interest in the content.
First, compilation of this report was not at the behest of any organization or individual. It is solely a private initiative.
From its inception there were two were primary goals for this project. I realize that both may be overly ambitious, and perhaps, a bit optimistic in nature.
The first of these was to develop an overview of the current state of the Route 66 community as perceived by the business owners, community leaders, activists, organizers, and other individuals associated with the highway’s culture of renaissance on an intimate level.
The second was to disseminate this information as widely as possible. In addition to helping foster a sense of community along the Route 66 corridor and among the international body of enthusiasts, I also wanted to encourage the creation of cooperative partnerships for the resolution of issues.
As envisioned, the report could also serve as an educational tool for those working to utilize the Route 66 renaissance as a catalyst for furthering endeavors ranging from promotion and preservation to urban development and revitalization. I also hope that this informal report will clarify perceptions as they pertain to Route 66 related issues.
To develop this report I solicited opinions and insight through Route 66 related social media sites, websites, and my blog (Route 66 Chronicles). I also sent personalized emails, and met with or called upon representatives or members from each of the state Route 66 associations as well as international associations. In addition, a similar request was sent to the Route 66 Alliance, and the National Historic Route 66 Federation as well as business owners, community leaders, tourism office directors, tour organizers and developers, and individuals with a vested interest in the Route 66 community.
The catalyst for initiation of the project was an increasing awareness of serious issues facing the Route 66 community and perceptions pertaining to these issues as well as resolution of them within that community. In addition, a tangible sense of frustration among business owners and community leaders provided further incentive.
Instrumental in my development of this perspective was involvement with initiatives to resolve problems launched by the powerful and passionate grassroots movement that underpins the Route 66 renaissance. Additionally, my participation in development of the 2014 International Route 66 Festival, assistance with Route 66 tour development, and discussions with enthusiasts on the road as well as through correspondence also contributed. Likewise, with speaking engagements coupled with question and answer sessions nationally as well as internationally.
In compiling this report, it became increasingly apparent that the issues as perceived by respondents fell into two primary categories. One is promotion, education, and marketing.
The second were concerns pertaining to infrastructure. This would include the need for preservation of historic bridges and tangible links to the evolution of highway engineering that make the Route 66 corridor a living time capsule. Also included in this category would be signage, roadside parks, and service industry structures associated with the highway’s history.
With but one exception respondents coupled their complaints and concerns with suggestions for resolution of issues in a manner that was respectful of the overall community. As a result, the conclusion I derived from discussions and correspondence was that the primary need of the Route 66 community was competent leadership in the form of a representative organization that could magnify, support, initiate, direct, and coordinate grassroots initiatives.
In addition, there was confirmation of opinions about the unique nature of Route 66, that highways renaissance, and the incredible people who give it a sense of vitality. Route 66 is truly a vibrant, healthy international community filled with passionate enthusiasts.
PROMOTION, EDUCATION, AND MARKETING
Respondents almost universally noted an intimate understanding of the potential for development or redevelopment in the Route 66 renaissance, and an awareness of the Route 66 Economic Impact Study released by World Monument Fund in 2011 (link “a”).
This perception, however, was not solely in the context of urban or community redevelopment as the resurgent interest in Route 66 represents an almost limitless opportunity for the establishment of small businesses.
“Heritage tourism is the fastest road to stabilized economies in small towns and counties along the path of Route 66. Fortunately, many educators and those seeking to develop a base for economic development understand this truth; a more visible, shined-up option of an old road can be the path to a new, brighter future for Route 66 communities.”
“Joplin, and the surrounding Mother Road communities of Carthage, Carterville, Webb City, and Galena have seen more public awareness of how Route 66 contributes tourism dollars for their economies.”
Inconsistent marketing, promotional, and educational initiatives were viewed as a primary hindrance to harnessing the highways renaissance for establishment of businesses or for urban development. Linked with this problem would be duplicated initiatives and outdated websites that result in wasted resources of time as well as finances, and that foster confusion (link “b”).
In fact, consistently respondents to my inquiries noted issues associated with promotion and education as principal concerns. To be more specific, the concerns centered on a lack of coordinated development of promotion for the Route 66 corridor as a single entity, and, with the exception of grassroots initiatives, a shortage of marketing assistance available to communities or business owners.
Additionally, respondents noted that there was a very noticeable lack of cooperative partnerships between Route 66 associations and organizations and international counterparts. As a result, capitalization on a wide array of promotional opportunities is restricted.
Some respondents referenced the 2015 Vankantiebeurs (holiday fair) in Utrecht, Netherlandsas an example of the marketing potential in these types of partnerships. For this event U.S. Bikers/USA Holidays, a Netherlands based tour company, retained the services of an American author who was written books and feature articles on Route 66 to make several presentations, to distribute Route 66 promotional materials, and to answer questions from potential clients.
The Dutch Route 66 Association hosted an open house in Amsterdamfor this author. In attendance were tour company owners, enthusiasts from Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and representatives from the Dutch and German Route 66 associations.
Compounding these perceptions, according to some respondents, is the lack of a timely or consistent release of information after announcement of organizational development; the establishment of an organization promoted as one that will serve the Route 66 community in its entirety, or the launch of promotional initiatives. The perception is that this also fuels divisions and frustrations that further hinder promotional development (link “c”, link “d”).
“National Route 66 Federation, Route 66 Alliance, U.S. 66 Highway Association, National Monuments Fund Steering Committee, whatever your group is – we have no idea who they are, what they are, why there’s so many and none can come together and work with the people. How about all you groups start working with each other first, get your stuff together and decide how you’re going to work with everyone else? If not, then just stop, because it’s a waste of everyone’s time and resources that could be used elsewhere.”
In regards to corridor wide development, this has created a general sense of apathy in the Route 66 community. According to some respondents, it has also resulted in a reluctance to partake in organizational initiatives or the development of cooperative partnerships. It has also fueled the development of factions.
“Nationally, the issue is obvious. We need one “umbrella organization” if we intend to unify all eight states along the route.
Personally speaking, the recent attempt to unite everyone has not been successful. The “committee” that was put together last year failed to include all eight states.
Although there are some very fine folks involved, by not including representation from all states, the appearance of unity is not present and again personally speaking, this was a failure from the initial conception.
Being very involved in the “political process” on both local and state levels, I will leave the politics involved in the Route 66 organizations to someone else and keep my own house tidy.
I wish the greatest success to all concerned but until ALL groups come together and ALL are represented, the “politics” will continue to be a roadblock to progress.”
Additionally, these divisions and the development of factions also constrict utilization of the roads primary promotional attribute, which are the personalities, the community’s celebrities that serve as it most visible spokespersons. A number of respondents also felt the infighting created polarization within the community as well as among enthusiasts. In some instances, this has resulted in individuals withdrawing from active participation in the roads promotion, or the development of educational or cooperative initiatives.
“…we the little guys, have too many other things we were already doing across Route 66 and too little time to stray away with other things that make no real difference or only support the few and their efforts to control the road and it’s stream of revenue. Thus at the moment, there is no real national or global leadership direction out there, too many organizations or groups pulling in too many directions and no one has any idea what’s going on, so many are no longer interested in trying to follow.”
Several respondents offered additional thoughts on the importance of celebrities or personalities to the promotion of Route 66. They referenced communities that were successfully harnessing the resurgent interest in the highway and the personalities that are the cornerstones of that development. Examples given included Seligman and Angel Delgadillo, Tulsa and Michael Wallis, Paris Springs Junction and Gary Turner, Galenaand Melba Rigg, Pontiac and Bob Russell, Afton and Laurel Kane, Tucumcari, the Mueller family and Richard and Gail Talley, Santa Monica and Dan Rice.
Almost universally, the movie Cars was credited as the most successful international promotional venue for Route 66 in recent years. This movie and the book Route 66: The Mother Road by Michael Wallis are considered the cornerstones of the Route 66 renaissance. As a result, Wallis was often referenced as the most visible spokesman for the Route 66 community.
In discussing this, numerous respondents suggested that the establishment of a speaker’s bureau would be beneficial to the Route 66 community. These respondents indicated that articulate, knowledgeable, and passionate spokespersons associated with the highways renaissance is a resource that needs to be developed in a coordinated manner.
They also indicated that it was crucial to have spokespersons from diverse demographics as well as an association with different aspects of the Route 66 renaissance for the marketing of the Route 66 experience to an audience beyond the Route 66 community. This would also curb the perception of exclusivity that hinders promotion to a broader market.
In discussing the perception that there is a limited number of spokespersons for the road a respondent noted, “…the biggest problem we face right now: Nearly everyone who travels the route, who has made a name for him or herself feels like they themselves own it, like “they were there first.” There’s this palpable exclusivity. It’s a club.”
Unfortunately, several respondents expressed similar sentiments. Interestingly enough many of them used the phrase “it’s a club” to describe the sense of being excluded.
In regards to frustrations with promotion or marketing developed to meet the needs of the entire Route 66 community, the two exemptions most often noted are the Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide and the EZ 66 Guide for Travelers published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation (link “e”). The primary complaint with the former was that it fell short of meeting needs resultant of time between updated publication and an inability to access the information via smart phones or similar devices. An additional complaint pertained to it not being a comprehensive guide, with ratings, for all of the dining and lodging accommodations along the Route 66 corridor.
Numerous organizations, communities, and grassroots initiatives have launched unique promotional or educational programs. Examples include Route 66 Cares developed by the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce (link “f”), the Route 66 Walk of Fame in Kingman, Arizona, and a limited partnership arrangement between the city of Holbrook and the National Park Service that resulted in tours along previously inaccessible sections of Route 66.
These are indicative of innovative endeavors that foster development of the unified sense of community that has a direct correlation to the promotion of Route 66. However, they are also indicative of the limitations imposed upon organizations established to represent the entirety of Route 66, state Route 66 associations, and communities’ resultant of available labor and financial resources.
A few respondents conjectured that the Route 66 renaissance was partially responsible for the inability of existent organizations to meet the needs of the international community. The perception is that the resources of these organizations were overwhelmed with the speed of the exponential growth of international interest in Route 66, the corresponding rise in tourism, and the associated challenges that resulted.
Further hindrance to some of the promotional initiatives launched by organizations and communities is a narrowed focus. This is largely a result of misconceptions pertaining to what enthusiasts are in search of when they travel the highway and the economic potential represented by the Route 66 renaissance. To address these issues development of educational programs was suggested.
“Given that there is such a wide variety of interests among Route 66 tourists, no type of business or attraction is necessarily bad. We have, however, heard many foreign tourists wishing for more authentic attractions, locations that show the history of The Road more accurately. The “Cars” movie provided much needed exposure of the Mother Road but it also created a certain kitsch.”