KINGMAN - Two local organizations, the Powerhouse Visitor's Center and the Historic Route 66 Association, took home awards at last week's Governor's Conference of Tourism.
The visitor's center won the 2011 Governor's Tourism Award for Best Innovative Promotion for its geocaching project, a GPS-driven, outdoor treasure hunting game.
Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Joshua Noble said the project increases awareness, education and excitement about the community. Those aspects lend themselves to visitors spending more time in Kingman, which is a fundamental goal of any group promoting tourism, Noble said.
Instead of people stopping to only fill their gas tanks, those interested in geocaching take time to search for treasures, have lunch or dinner and possibly stay overnight, Noble said. You also have people who come back to finish the series at a different time, he added.
There are nearly 200 geocaches around Kingman, and most were there before the center started promoting the activity, Noble said. For the most part, it's a crowd-sourcing activity and is out of the center's hands. The program, however, gives the activity and the area an extra push to the forefront of geocacher's minds, Noble said.
It's often referred to as a niche activity, but according to geocache.com, 5 million people search around the world for over 1.4 million active geocaches, and Noble said this community-driven sport has been around for about 10 years.
Noble has two favorite Kingman geocaches. One is near the Powerhouse and is very difficult to find, which prompts people to come in the center to look for help. The other is near the train depot and illustrates a parade from 1910, Noble said. It's a great way to see how the area was then, how it is now and the connection between.
According to a survey conducted by the Arizona office of Tourism and Northern Arizona University Hospitality Research, more than 2.3 million people visit Kingman annually. Of those, 4.6 percent of them go geocaching - approximately 108,000 people. This may not seem like a lot, but one must consider that the Powerhouse's geocaching project has cost a grand total of $250 during its 18 months of existence.
"It's a niche market," Noble said. "But it's an easy payback."
The conference's Cooperative Marketing award went to the Historical Route 66 Association of Arizona for its Route 66 Passport project.
The association's bi-way leader, Sharlene Fouser, said she is "extremely proud" and "delighted" to win the award, which adds "credibility to the program."
The Route 66 Passport program was launched last summer and is a marketing initiative between all Route 66 communities in Arizona and is the first of its kind, Fouser said.
It works like this: people pick up a free passport, travel Route 66, collect stamps at 10 different northern Arizona visitor centers and then turn them in for prizes.
The 10 represented visitor centers are evenly divided along the route, so people can experience the route without getting bogged down in one area, Fouser said.
If someone collects seven stamps, they get a certificate of completion. Nine stamps will get the bearer the certificate and some goodies, but collecting all 10 gets the Route 66 connoisseur a certificate, some goodies, a Route 66 bag and an entry into a grand prize drawing, Fouser said.
"The idea is to get people into communities all across the route," Fouser said.
Even though stamps are available in 10 communities along the way, all 19 Route 66 communities are represented on the passport.
There is even a wildcard stamp, so people can use one of the remaining nine communities to supplement their passports, Fouser said.
The passport can be redeemed at three spots: Kingman, Flagstaff and Holbrook.
"The program helps increase awareness of northern Arizona," Fouser said. "(It shows people that) we have a whole world to explore."