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Development of tourism industry helps local economy

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by Murrel Bland
I recall attending a luncheon, sponsored by the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce, some 35 years ago at the Downtown Holiday Inn.
The featured speaker was Larry Montgomery, a lawyer from Shawnee County who was promoting tourism for the Kansas Department of Economic Development. Montgomery, who would later run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor and become the first director of the Kansas Lottery, was telling business leadership here how much the state was missing in not promoting tourism.
I can’t remember much of what Montgomery had to say—but I do remember his story about a television spot for the state of Alaska promoting tourism. The catch line was “Alaska—after you have been there, everything else is like Kansas!”
Fast-forward to Wednesday, May 7, at the Reardon Convention Center, where about 300 gathered to celebrate National Tourism Week. No disrespect to Alaska, but that television spot would not be accurate today. And a major reason would be the numerous high-quality attractions in Village West including the Kansas Speedway, The Legends Outlets, the Hollywood Casino, Schlitterbahn Vacation Village and the Sporting Kansas City and Kansas City T-Bones stadiums.
The theme of the tourism celebration this year is “Kansas City Kansas—Insanely Fun.” That phrase refers to the new attraction at Schitterbahn that recently revealed the world’s tallest water slide at 168 feet and 7 inches.  Some folks might believe that anyone who takes a ride down the slide at speeds up to 60 miles per hour would be insane.
The Kansas City, Kan., Convention and Visitors Bureau presented four awards. The Major League Soccer All-Star game was named the “Event of the Year.” The game attracted fans from 36 states and several foreign countries.      The “Excellence in Hospitality” award went to Justin (Doc) Shobe, the corporate account manager at Kansas Speedway. Shobe was recognized for his cooperation in accommodating tour groups.
The “Organization of the Year” went to Dave and Buster’s in The Legends. Dave and Buster’s was one of the first businesses to open in the Legends in 2005 and provides dining and a video arcade.
Dennis Hays, who recently retired as the Wyandotte County administrator, was named the “Tourism Advocate of the Year.” Hays was recognized for his leadership in developing Village West as a quality destination.
Tourism is big business. According to Bridgette Jobe, the executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, it ranks as the sixth largest employer in the United States and third in Kansas. Jobe said she will soon have information where tourism ranks as an employer in Wyandotte County.
Wyandotte County continues to attract more than 12 million visitors annually, according to Jobe. Although Village West has many sports and entertainment attractions, most people come here to shop.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.

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