The international popularity of Route 66, a highway that no longer officially exists, is rooted in the work of Cyrus Avery and his team of firmly grounded visionaries. U.S. 66 is not our most historic highway or its most scenic but from its inception it has always had the best publicity. That provides the communities and the businesses along the highway corridor with a tremendous marketing advantage. Still, in this the era of renaissance what is lacking is a sense of community, a sense of unified purpose. This has hindered preservation and marketing. It has blunted its potential. This was a very serious issue before the COVID-19 crisis. Now it is a critical issue.
Before the advent of the federal highway system in the mid 1920s organizations had been established to promote the Dixie Highway, the Lincoln Highway, the National Old Trails Road and the myriad of named “highways” that traversed America. They all had a commonality. The organizations were self serving in that the promotion of a specific road was linked with business interests. The organizations realized the importance of promoting a linear corridor rather than a single destination. The organizations realized that travelers had options and marketing was key if one road was to become more popular than another.
Cyrus Avery of Tulsa was well versed in the development and promotion of a road or highway as he had assisted with the organization of an Oklahoma branch of the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) in 1914, and had been instrumental in organization of related conventions. In 1927 Avery was a leader in the organization of the U.S. Highway 66 Association for the promotion of tourism along the newly minted highway, and lobby for its paving from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Avery had a vested interest in the success of Route 66 as he had business interests along the highway in Tulsa. Still, he knew that his interest, those of fellow business owners and the City of Tulsa would be best served by promoting the highway in its entirety. Author Michael Wallis summed up the concept nicely when he once quipped that Route 66 was linear community. From this perspective Kingman or Tulsa or Claremore are the neighborhoods that add diversity and color to the Route 66 community.
There is little doubt that some communities, some sections of the highway corridor will survive and even thrive during the crisis as well as into the centennial and beyond. However, without the unified sense of purpose and of community made manifest in the U.S. Highway 66 Association, Route 66 itself can not survive. Simply put, we can no longer afford the luxury of myopia or a self serving focus.
I have long been hoping for a reincarnation of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, a chamber of commerce for the Route 66 community. There have been a number of initiatives in recent years. However, while each has made contributions to the Route 66 community all have fallen short. So until that organization is reborn we must work together at the grassroots level; the community organizers, the tour company owners, local tourism offices and business owners, the authors, artists, and photographers.
And we must realize that this grassroots network is not just American in nature. As with the travelers that contribute so mightily to the economy of the Route 66 community, the grassroots network of business owners and event organizers is also international in nature. This is made manifest in the European Route 66 festivals (canceled for 2020) the Route 66 Navigation app and Mother Road Route 66 Passport developed by Touch Media based in Bratislava, Slovakia and the Route 66 associations in Europe, Japan, Australia, Brazil and Canada.
It is imperative that we build cooperative partnerships. It is imperative that we pool resources for marketing. It is imperative that we harness modern technologies – social media, live stream programs, Zoom, etc. for promotion as well as for streamlining communication. It is important that we build networks.
Now, with all of this said I would like to share a bit about Jim Hinckley’s America, the services we can offer, and how you can help ensure that this travel network continues with the promotion of the Route 66 community. First a short overview.
Jim Hinckley’s America is an expansive website, a multifaceted social media network (almost 6,000 followers on Facebook), live stream programs, presentations, audio podcast, feature articles, YouTube channel, consultation service (for communities as well as groups), and guide service. The network is in a near constant state of growth and transition to ensure that we provide the best value for advertising sponsors, the best service for the traveler and that we can contribute to the building of a stronger Route 66 community.
As with most every tourism centered business in the world we have been adversely affected. All presentations scheduled through October have been canceled. The classes on the economics of heritage tourism developed for the local community college were canceled. More than 95% of advertising sponsors have had to temporarily suspend advertising. Support for the crowdfunding initiative has been curtailed. All work as a tour development consultant and as a step on guide have been canceled.
Still, our work continues. We have launched a new series of live stream programs that are added to the YouTube channel after broadcast. Uranus General Store & Fudge Company has signed on as a partial sponsor. Connie Echols of the historic Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri has continued with her support even though her business was severely curtailed. This and continued support from the City of Cuba have enabled development of the Coffee With Jim program scheduled for Saturday mornings and continuation of the 5 Minutes With Jim audio podcast. Still the dramatic decline has greatly restricted our program schedule as well as plans for development of other initiatives.
So, we are offering advertising opportunities that will fit any marketing budget. We are also offering exclusive content for contributors to the crowdfunding initiative. The entire travel journal from Edsel Ford’s 1915 odyssey along the National Old Trails Road was published in serial format. A short time ago I began writing my autobiography in serial format as well. And we are also planning for the future by scheduling speaking engagements.
So, I do hope that you will consider lending support to Jim Hinckley’s America. And I sincerely hope that you will find ways to build a sense of community as well as community purpose, and to build a network of cooperative partnerships.