Only a few organizations or communities have actively sought to develop promotional partnerships outside their specific sphere of influence, and few communities develop events in conjunction with neighboring municipalities.
Several respondents referenced the 2013 Route 66 International Festival in Joplin, Missourias an example of successful cooperative initiatives between communities and organizations, and as a template for development of productive intercommunity partnerships. In addition to ensuring the event was a success, this partnership fostered creation of long-term promotional endeavors as well as community development programs that continue to benefit the participating municipalities.
“A section of WebbCity’s Main Street is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and the 1920’s era Government’s U.S. Filling Station is slated for restoration by the City. In Joplin, the abandoned 1946 Westport Lodge Motel is being totally restored after the Chamber convinced the new owner to save it from demolition, the original route into Joplin may soon have a city owned Route 66 Visitors Welcome Center on Broadway Street, and a Route 66 Mural Park Downtown speaks to the history of Joplin on the Mother Road.
Galena, Kansas has also recognized the resurgence in interest in the Mother Roadand has completed a paving project downtown. The ‘Cars on the Route’ attraction is a huge draw and the old Front Street Garage across the street has been purchased for restoration.”
Respondents also referenced the 2014 Route 66 International Festival in Kingman, Arizona. However, in this instance the reference was about the strength of grassroots promotional initiatives, international support at the grassroots level, and the shortcomings of existent organizations. They also noted the transitional effect on communities that benefit from successful events of this magnitude, and the transformational potential in the development of programs such as the Route 66: Crossroads of the Past & Future Conference (link “g”).
The overall perception of respondents is that a primary contributing factor that hinders establishment of cooperative partnerships similar to the one developed between Joplin and Galena, but for the entire Route 66 corridor, or the development of events like the one in Kingman is the lack of a representative organization or entity to facilitate that development. Likewise, with initiatives to educate communities on the economic potential of Route 66, to assist small business owners with marketing or promotion, to develop new international markets for the Route 66 communities, and to provide travel planning assistance to foreign travelers.
Another factor cited was a lack of educational and promotional initiatives developed to target the American market. Travelers from international markets currently account for a large percentage of travelers on Route 66.
“On our section of The Road at least, the vast majority of visitors are foreign. While this is certainly not a bad thing, maybe more effort should be put into reaching out to American tourists. Of course the Route 66 experience is more exotic to foreign visitors than it is to Americans and because of this it will probably always be more popular to foreign visitors, any outreach to “local” tourists can only be a good thing.”
Currently the primary component in Route 66 promotion and educational initiatives is the grassroots network of business owners, museums, and community organizers along the Route 66 corridor that will support, endorse, or provide promotional assistance to other business owners as well as communities. Coupled with this is the passion of Route 66 enthusiasts.
However, numerous factors constrict the success of such initiatives. Some communities are too small to assist Route 66 specific businesses in the development of a unified promotional presence, or they fail to understand the economic importance and potential of the Route 66 renaissance. This also hinders development of cooperative promotional initiatives with neighboring communities.
“In my view, people falsely separate economic development from historical preservation. One is always the key to the other. Open the door to historical preservation and enhancement projects on Route 66 – whether a set of murals in Carthage, Missouri, arranging to reopen a 66 roadside café, reestablishing 66 signage, or conducting an oral interview history program in association with a museum – each of these tasks enhances the overall economic potential of a community.”
Resultant of limited resources and lack of a centralized organization to provide assistance, business owners, and smaller communities depend heavily on these grassroots initiatives and word of mouth advertising for promotion. This often leaves new businesses that have yet to establish a reputation with Route 66 travelers, and communities hosting first year events at a disadvantage.
“I do believe that a National Route 66 Organization would be beneficial in helping promote Route 66 as a whole to the rest of the Country and to the World. A unified message and information would greatly enhance the traveler’s experience. I’m just not sure if the right combination of people/organizations has come together yet to make that possible.”
Related to this are issues unique to Route 66 corridors in metropolitan areas. In cities such as Amarillo, St. Louis, and Los Angelesgrassroots initiatives are often the only promotional resource available for individual business owners or neighborhood cooperatives. This is seldom adequate for overcoming perceptions pertaining to the traffic or crime concerns of travelers, or for reaching out to tour developers. Famous or well-promoted attractions or businesses that have a larger budget for marketing also often overshadow the anemic endeavors initiated by neighborhood cooperatives.
Most often cited, as an example of the latter was the City of Amarillo. The Cadillac Ranch and the Big Texan Steak Ranch, neither of which are actually on Route 66, are major attractions for tour groups as well as individuals. However, the Route 66 corridor along 6th Avenue in the historic San Jacinto district languishes, largely resultant of limited promotional resources.
The popularity of Route 66 has led to expansive international media coverage in the form of product advertising campaigns and tours as well as print, radio, and television programs. Recent examples would include a photo spread published in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (link “h”), and in the May 2015 issue of Arizona Highways. Tours organized by Open Road Productions in conjunction with Shanghai General Motors for Chinese clients, and an article published in Croatia Week about the electric vehicle museum (link “i”) that opened in Kingman during the 2014 Route 66 International Festival. However, respondents noted that inaccuracies were common which in turn resulted in a misrepresentation of the Route 66 community that could stifle, constrict, or hinder tourism development.
The issues associated with Route 66 promotion, marketing, and education, are not limited to the businesses and communities along the corridor between Chicagoand Santa Monica. As the Route 66 community is international in scope, associations and businesses in other countries face similar problems.
The primary suggestion for resolution of these issues noted by respondents was establishment of a centralized source for accurate information, as well as the listing of events coupled to travel planning resources ranging from lodging information to business contact information. A network for shared dissemination and distribution of promotional materials along the Route 66 corridor as well as internationally is also a recommendation for alleviating promotional issues faced by business owners as well as communities.
“We believe the single biggest challenge facing tourism growth on Route 66 is the lack of a central source of information. Almost daily we encounter, often on social media, someone asking about where they can find information about businesses and attractions along the road and unfortunately this comprehensive source doesn’t exist.”
An additional suggestion was to utilize milestones in Route 66 history as promotional tools. As an example, the 90th anniversary of certification in 2016, and the centennial in 2026, is ideal for development of events that would lend themselves to extensive media coverage as well as garner interest in non-traditional markets. If organizers would develop these events as a venue for extensive promotion of Route 66 in its entirety, and as a platform for a Route 66 convention consisting of educational presentations as well as workshops, it would alleviate a wide array of promotional issues.
Two such events scheduled for 2016 are in the formative stages of development. One is a 90thanniversary celebration of Route 66 at the original western terminus in the historic theater district of Los Angeles. Scott Piotrowski, the event coordinator is establishing a coalition from community and business leaders, and has the full support of the California Historic Route 66 Association.
Scheduled for July of 2016 is the first European Route 66 Festival that will take place in Germany(link “j”). To date, Wolfgang Werz of the German Route 66 Association, the principle organizing entity, has garnered full support from the European Route 66 associations. Initial plans are for inclusion of a Route 66 information center with promotional materials from businesses as well as communities, as well as Route 66 authors and artists.
In October 2015, organizers in Edwardsville, Illinois will host the Miles of Possibilities event that builds on the 2014 Route 66 International Festival, specifically the Crossroads of the Past & Future conference (link “k”). Plans call for activities that celebrate Route 66 linked with an historic annual event, as well as a conference and workshops centered on providing information of importance to the Route 66 community.
In discussing these events and their potential for the Route 66 community, some respondents noted that as with the festival in Kingman last year, support from the grassroots movement is crucial to success. This will also be crucial to the development of promotion before as well as afterwards since a centralized support structure to initiate or magnify grassroots initiatives is currently non-existent.
These respondents also referenced the long-term benefits of these endeavors for the Route 66 community that would be enhanced if an entity capable of providing organizers with a support structure, and that could coordinate as well as magnify the grassroots initiatives, were in place by the scheduled date of the events noted.
As noted, infrastructure issues were also a primary concern of respondents. Underlying these concerns was an understanding that historic bridges and original highway engineering details were crucial to providing enthusiasts with an authentic experience.
Linked with this were concerns pertaining to the loss of architecturally significant or unique structures that are crucial to ensuring that experience. Motels listed as the highways most endangered properties in news stories and reports in 2007 and 2008 rated high in these concerns but also included were service stations, trading posts, garages, and roadside parks (link “l”).
Equally as important to respondents were issues associated with inconsistent and inadequate signage. While this concern centered on primary alignments of Route 66, the consensus was that uniform signage for the entire corridor, including truncated but drivable sections of the highway such as from the site of John’s Modern Cabins to Arlington in Missouri and Old Trails Road west of Kingman would be of tremendous benefit.
Consistent and adequate signage in urban settings was deemed crucial for fostering business development along the Route 66 corridor, and the promotion of tourism. Furthermore, of additional benefit would be signage that included date of usage for the various alignments as used in Illinois and Missouri.
Numerous examples of where the lack of such signage hindered development were cited. These include the Route 66 corridors in Amarillo, as well as metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and St. Louis.
“Whether done by a state Route 66 association or the state’s department of transportation a plan for a reasonably similar set of signage keeping tourists on the right road is crucial. A lost tourist is not going to be a happy tourist and probably is one who will think twice about returning. Guidebooks are fine but they can’t replace effective signage.”
Preservation and utilization of original highway infrastructure such as historic bridges and abandoned or bypassed sections of roadbed is a complicated issue as indicated by input received from respondents. However, there was almost universal agreement that grassroots or local initiatives alone would prove inadequate to meet the challenges associated with this aspect or Route 66 development. This is in spite of the fact that there have been successful endeavors cited such as refurbishment of the Lake OverholserBridge in Oklahoma, the Devils ElbowBridge in Missouri, or the transformation of an abandoned alignment in Lexington, Illinoisinto an attraction.
To a large degree, this perception is resultant of the realization that addressing these issues will require working on a state as well as federal and local level. Magnifying these challenges is the available funding for highway maintenance and repair, the need to prioritize those resources, and a lack of understanding about the economic impact of Route 66 related tourism, especially for rural communities.
Respondents also noted an awareness of the need to be proactive in regards to infrastructure preservation rather than reactive. Again, in spite of the impressive international grassroots initiative to preserve the Gasconade River Bridge in Missouri, and assistance provided by the Route 66 Alliance, respondents expressed frustration that a national organization was not in place to initiate, magnify, and support these initiatives along the entire Route 66 corridor.
Another example cited were initiatives and issues with the Route 66 corridor in California. The California Historic Route 66 Association in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a corridor management program that has included four web-based meetings with stakeholders and development of a draft plan with a goal of scenic byway designation (link “m”).
In spite of this ambitious endeavor, key sections of Route 66 in the Mojave Desert remain closed more than nine months after storm damage to bridges. This was referenced on numerous occasions in the context of the need for a national organization that provides assistance with these initiatives and bolsters grassroots or localized projects.
This is not to say that it is impossible to bring such initiatives to successful conclusion without support of a national organization. In Texas, Larry Clonts of the Shamrock Economic Development Corporation has been spearheading lobbying efforts for state House Bill 978 that calls for the declaration of the 178-mile Route 66 corridor as a Texas Historic Corridor. On March 10, 2015, Clonts testified before the Transportation House Subcommittee, and on the 26th of that month, it was voted on and unanimously approved. This designation may become law as early as July.
An additional issue pertaining to infrastructure preservation, according to some respondents, is a need to develop adaptive usage of buildings, roadbeds, and related components to meet the needs of an evolving Route 66 community. Even though this type of development can be utilized to market Route 66 to a nontraditional demographic there are concerns pertaining to the loss of historical integrity.
“During that trip (to the 2014 Route 66 International festival) I learned of the intention of making Route 66 “the first electric highway.” I then connected with the folks from Tesla (who were also presenting in Kingman) to express my ideas of locating a supercharging station at the U-Drop Inn, which to me was a perfect place for the “past to truly meet the future.”
We made that a reality in February of this year when the Tesla Station officially opened.”
Additional examples of capitalizing on this nontraditional market is the addition of electric vehicle charging stations at the La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, and in Kingman, Arizona, where the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum opened in the 1908 powerhouse. Another example cited was the electric vehicle cruise event in Atlanta, Illinois.
Providing services to electric vehicle owners and developing events such as last years Route 66 International Festival with a theme of Route 66 as the crossroads of the past and future opens an array of promotional opportunities for communities as well as businesses. An excellent example would be the Plugshare website that provides businesses with a no cost venue for promotion, and advancements in solar power technologies that make it feasible to profitably operate businesses in remote locations (link “o”).
Respondents noted the growing interest in bicycle tourism and the recent initiatives pertaining to Route 66 put forth by the Adventure Cycling Association as an example of potential new markets (link “n”).