LESSONS LEARNED ON A ROUTE 66 ADVENTURE IN GERMANY
An award from the German Route 66 Association, something I will long treasure.
Resultant of a late in life career change, I now keep beans on the table and gas in the Jeep by assisting businesses and communities that want to develop Route 66 related marketing or promotion, or use the resurgent interest in the highway as a catalyst for economic development or revitalization. This also happens to subsidize my ongoing book writing habit (a new book is scheduled for release this fall).
So, the primary reason for our recent trip to Germany and the first European Route 66 Festival was business, namely the promotion of Kingman and the surrounding area as a vacation destination. Needless to say, I really enjoy my work.
In regards to Route 66 promotion, marketing, and level of interest in this old road in Europe, I learned a great deal on this trip. Even though many of the things I will share in this post are Kingman specific, they are applicable to most any community along the Route 66 corridor from Chicago to Santa Monica.
First, Route 66 has brand recognition that is almost on par with coca cola. The Route 66 shield is everywhere.
As an example, when I went to the Condor Airline (a German company) website to print boarding passes, imagine my surprise to see a New Mexico Route 66 shield. I also saw a Route 66 shield in a Worms mall, at the Frankfurt airport, in a train station, at a sidewalk cafe in Mainz, at a beer garden, and in various advertisements. More often than not, the Route 66 sign was set against a backdrop of southwestern scenery.
Surprisingly, however, knowledge about Route 66 is rather thin. Many people that I talked with thought it was a brand and did not know it was a road. Others thought that is was no longer possible to drive it.
However, those who did know about Route 66, quite often learned about it initially because of the song by Nat King Cole and the movie Cars. Another portal was friends who have traveled the road in part or from end to end, and social media.
So, the conclusion I drew from these conversations was two fold. One, communities along the highways corridor have an incredible opportunity to market or promote based upon a highly recognized brand. Second, the communities along the highway corridor in the southwest have a distinct advantage in regards to marketing and promotion.
In Kingman, the development of marketing that links the city with Route 66 and the grandeur of the southwest has another component in the “Grand Circle” which is a major US destination for international travelers. Kingman is located on the western edge of this circle that loops from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, through Monument Valley, and then through the stunning national parks in southern Utah.
However, the grand circle is also a detriment for Kingman. As the city is located in between Williams, Arizona and Las Vegas, few tour groups stay overnight. Likewise with a number of tourists who are in the area specifically for our section of Route 66 and the grand circle.
To counter this Kingman could easily be marketed and promoted as a vacation destination in itself. The components are here; 160-miles of scenic Route 66, two day white water rafting trips on the Colorado River, spelunking opportunities, wildlife parks, the Grand Canyon, dude ranches, ghost towns, two of the best mountain bike and hiking trail systems in the state of Arizona, museums including the world’s only electric vehicle museum, wineries, colorful events, eclectic restaurants, and pretty decent weather most months of the year.
As Kingman and the surrounding area was my primary promotional focus, in discussions during the Route 66 festival in Germany, I learned that there are five key locations in the city which are instantly recognized by enthusiasts, even if they have not traveled the road.
These are Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Locomotive Park, the Powerhouse Visitor Center, the Route 66 walk of fame, and the Ramada Kingman photo exhibition.
There are as many reasons for projects with tremendous promotional value to fall by the wayside as there are people proposing projects with tremendous promotional value. In Kingman, one of the projects that seems to be in limbo despite the fact that it has already garnered a great deal of international media attention, as well as interest from Route 66 enthusiasts and groups is the Route 66 walk of fame.
Debuting at the 2014 Route 66 International Festival, development of the walk of fame has gone stagnant resultant of funding shortages, lack of man power, and competing community organizations. This is in comparison to the Bricks on 66 project in Galena, Kansas, a successful project that has been utilized to fund beautification projects in the historic commercial district.
Still, in spite of issues and problems, the walk of fame in Kingman has played an important role in the promotion of the city internationally. As an example, Dries Bessels of the Dutch Route 66 Association will be the “King of the Road” at this years Best of the West Festival parade, an arrangement that resulted directly from the walk of fame.
Author Michael Wallis once quipped that Route 66 is a linear community. Taking that analogy to the next level we see that towns and cities along the Route 66 corridor are merely quirky neighborhoods in a much larger community. Galena and Kingman are both embracing that concept by including the international Route 66 community in their events, and their developments.
The Route 66 festival in Germany encapsulated what drives the ground swell of interest in Route 66 travel, especially among international enthusiasts; an opportunity to enjoy an authentic American experience and the people, specifically the camaraderie of shared experiences. Linked with this are the people, the interesting and colorful characters, and the “celebrities” that further magnify the unique attributes of a community. Illustrating the latter point would be Angel Delgadillo in Seligman.
There are ample examples of communities that have successfully harnessed the Route 66 renaissance as a catalyst for economic development as well as revitalization, and to magnify their unique attributes. Galena, Pontiac, Cuba, and Atlanta are just a few examples.
Kingman is slowly awakening to the possibilities, and the results are quite impressive, especially in the historic district. Still, the recipe for the type of success enjoyed by communities such as Cuba remains elusive.
Lessons learned on the Route 66 adventure in Germany; with vision, with leadership that can foster creation of a sense of community as well as community purpose, with outside of the box thinking, and with steadfast determination, any village, town, or city can tap into the Route 66 renaissance and be transformed. Any community can become a destination for travelers as well as for those in search of a place to live, a place to open a business, a place to retire, or a special place for raising a family.