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Wigwam owner: Youth are the future of Route 66's success

The Wigwam Motel in Rialto, Calif., is one of many quirky stops on Route 66 – a road that needs to start courting a younger audience to stay competitive. (Courtesy)

KINGMAN - To Kumar Patel, it's all about reaching the younger generation with the message of Route 66.

Patel, owner of the Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in Rialto, Calif., knows that unless he and other business owners along the Mother Road successfully convince others of the joys of traveling the route, their customer base will die off just like the older enthusiasts who frequent their establishments.

Patel understands that if younger motorists don't relate to the quirky elements of the vintage road, they'll hit the highways instead.

So far, that message is falling on eager ears.

The motel, which was built in 1949 and features 19 individual, renovated wigwam rooms, has seen an uptick in younger tourists eager to experience the many oddities and curiosities that dot the 2,000-mile road running from Grant Park in Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in California.

Patel's family bought the motel in 2003.

"This year is busy," said Patel at a symposium during the International Route 66 Festival. "We sold out for 72 days straight, which was more than I ever expected. And we've kept the rates the same, even though we're more popular now.

"People who can't stay on the Saturday night they want because we're booked are willing to pick another day just to be able to visit. We're very pleased with how things are going."

Patel is doing his part to plug the iconic culture of Route 66 among the younger generation.

He hosted a doughnut party and summer's end hip-hop festival at the motel, complete with strobe lights and DJs. Patel decorated the tepee-shaped motel rooms to look like Christmas trees. And he has pursued social media - especially Facebook - with a passion.

"Social media is the best way to keep this going," said Patel. "For Route 66, social media is the next big thing because everyone on Facebook sees what we're writing.

"This is how we connect today and how we reach the younger generation."


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