Tourism and recreation in Kansas have never gotten the attention they deserve. An effective recreation and tourism strategy would not only bring more outside money to our state, but it would keep more of our own money at home and improve quality of life issues. Our biggest challenge in Kansas, as identified in the Young Nichols and Gilstrap study in 1998, is our perception of ourselves. Many Kansans do not think anybody wants to come to Kansas, so we have been unwilling to invest in our recreation and tourism industry. One only needs to look at the Kansas Speedway to see how incorrect that attitude is. Some people questioned the potential benefit of legislation that paved the way for Kansas Speedway. It is difficult to find a skeptic now.
Our geographic location is an advantage upon which we can build. There are numerous people traveling through Kansas every day. In fact, the Young Nichols and Gilstrap study pointed out that Kansas has it share of tourists, they just don't stay in our state for very long. In many cases they are traveling through on their way to other destinations. The study goes on to say if we could just slow them down, the Kansas economy would benefit significantly.
As it stands in Kansas government, tourism does not have the stature or continuity of leadership to aid in the development or implementation of a successful tourism strategy. In order to give tourism the prominence needed, I would remove tourism from the Commerce Department and remove Parks from the Wildlife and Parks Department. They would then be combined to form a new cabinet level agency called Parks and Tourism.
When Fish and Game was combined with the Park Authority in the late 1980s to form Wildlife and Parks, increasing efficiency was the chief concern. This has not been achieved. In fact, Kansas is prohibited from pursuing some efficiencies because of restrictions on federal money flowing the Wildlife division. Additionally, the Wildlife division of Wildlife and Parks has always been the stronger divisions. Because the Wildlife division is the stronger part of the agency and their expertise is not tourism, Kansas has never developed the full potential of the Parks Division.
Under our proposed restructuring, the Parks Division would become an important part of our tourism strategy. We could begin to develop professionals within state government that know and understand tourism issues who could advise the legislature and the Governor, to develop and implement tourism strategy.