Well, this weekend the Miles of Possibility Conference added a few pieces to the puzzle. The future of tourism on and off Route 66 in the next 18 months or so is becoming clearer. And as I suspected, the news is a mixed blend of worrisome issues and hints of optimism.
From its inception in 2014 as the Crossroads of the Past & Future Conference at the Route 66 International Festival in Kingman, Arizona, the annual conference has evolved into an annual Route 66 convention. Last year it was canceled, and this year was via Zoom. Plans are already underway for the 2022 Miles of Possibility Conference which is scheduled for October 20 to October 23.
I am looking forward to an in person event, especially as it is being hosted by the dynamic community of Pontiac, Illinois. It will be a delight to visit with old friends, to have some in person discussions, and to hoist a pint or two after sessions and presentations.
As has been the custom since its inception, the roster of speakers was diverse. They included Bonnie Game, member of he Canadian Route 66 Association and owner of a travel agency, Liz Vincent, tourism director in Pontiac, Scott Piotrowski, president of the California Historic Route 66 Association, Dries Bessels of the Dutch Route 66 Association, and Marian Pavel. Pavel is the developer of the innovative Route 66 Navigation app and Mother Road Route 66 Passport. Brennen Matthews of Route magazine, Toshi Goto of the Japanese Route 66 Association and Casey Claypool, Executive Director of the Illinois Scenic Byway, member of the Illinois Route 66 Centennial Commission, and chair of the Economic Development Working Committee for the Road Ahead Partnership were also speakers.
I try and keep a pulse on tourism trends, domestic as well as international. And so this past week I also spoke with the owners of numerous tour companies that I have provided service to over the years. This also clarified as well as confirmed some vague suspicions that I have had flowing in the back of my mind.
Domestically and internationally there is a pent up demand for travel. Still, the anecdotal evidence continues to mount that it may be several years before international traffic on Route 66 rebounds to pre COVID levels. Likewise with international travel to America in general as Europeans are rediscovering or discovering holiday wonderlands such as Croatia and Greece that are closer to home.
And with potential international travelers to the United States there are a couple of simmering issues, real and perceived, that could curtail this envisioned growth. These include the assault on the capital, as well as worries about manifestations of deepening political divisions, a concerted effort to undermine election integrity which could lead to societal upheaval, an increase in incendiary social media posts about foreigners, and the American response to COVID and vaccines, to name but a few.
Upward inflationary trends are also giving people pause. Domestically in some locations the cost for gasoline is at an all time high.
But this is not just an American issue. Several European countries are experiencing similar issues. And the discussions about rising prices and poverty are becoming more common.
On the tourism front domestically COVID had a silver lining. Americans are rediscovering the adventure, the fun, and the simple pleasures of the road trip. Last year records were set with recreational vehicle sales and rentals.
And communities that marketed outdoor activities such as hiking trails and mountain bike trails, campgrounds, and state or national parks maintained tourism revenue. Some even saw an increase in tourism numbers. And now those communities are becoming destinations.
Meanwhile, here at Jim Hinckley’s America, it is business as usual. I harnessed the down time during the apocalypse and cranked out two new books, as well as a few feature articles. And I picked up a few new clients that will be using my services in 2022 to enhance their tours.
I am continuing to build the Jim Hinckley’s America brand as a travel network. And after the upheaval of the past 18 months the decision has been made that in the next year I will own a Model A Ford as a regular daily driver. Best fitting my perception of self, and the perception that have of me, it will most likely be a truck.
This near fifty year obsession (for no discernable reason) has always been pushed to the back burner resultant of obligations, emergencies, and my rigid focus on being practical in my purchases.
Stay tuned …