Route 66: Kingman scouted as an international travel destination
KINGMAN - Tourism director Josh Noble sees busloads of international visitors stopping here for gas and food on day excursions to the Grand Canyon, and he's trying to steal a room night or two from Las Vegas, where most of them stay.
Easily Arizona's top tourist attraction, the Grand Canyon lies about 200 miles from Kingman and brings more than 5 million visitors a year.
The West Rim is a short jaunt away and features the glass Skywalk jutting over the edge 4,000 feet above the canyon floor.
"Kingman may not be a destination itself, but it's part of a destination, being on Route 66, part of the Southwest and close to the Grand Canyon," said Noble, president and chief executive officer of Kingman Visitor Center. "Like a hotel in Las Vegas isn't a destination, but part of a destination."
Noble hosted a "familiarization tour" in December for international travel representatives to get a feel for the Kingman tourism experience.
Four representatives came from the Arizona Office of Tourism's international offices in China, France, Canada and the United Kingdom, and three came from the administrative office in Phoenix.
The idea behind the tour was to familiarize travel planners and writers with Kingman as a destination by embracing them with an authentic tourist experience, Noble said.
He took them to the Bonnelli House, Arizona Route 66 Museum, Desert Diamond Distillery, and Cella and Stetson wineries. They stayed at Best Western King's Inn and were treated to dinner at Mattina's Ristorante Italiano.
This was the first trip to Kingman for many of them and their first Route 66 experience, Noble said.
"So it was a good opportunity to show what we have to offer on this side of the state," he said. "Overall, I think everyone was impressed with what we have in the area. Mattina's was probably the best meal they'd had. They got to see nightlife downtown, which is crucial for visitors coming in from some markets."
Kingman Visitor Center provides information on special events in the area, points of interest and statewide attractions.
Located in the Powerhouse Museum on historic Route 66, the visitor center counted 109,327 people coming through the doors in 2015, the second-highest number in the last 10 years. More than 116,000 visited in 2014. They came from 70 countries.
"Everyone knew Route 66 is a well-known destination, but they didn't know why," Noble said. "Our museum is a great way of putting the puzzle pieces together."
Surveys indicate that 68 percent of visitors come to Kingman for the Route 66 experience, 59 percent visit the Grand Canyon National Park and 17 percent visit Grand Canyon West.
Yvonne Woytovich, president and chief executive officer of the Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, said Kingman could capitalize on Grand Canyon West traffic through partnering and cross-promotion.
"Developing a marketing package that includes a variety of things to do here such as visiting Route 66, Oatman, Grand Canyon Caverns and Grand Canyon West might be effective," she said.
The city of Kingman and the Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce put together a Mohave County "Passport" for the Route 66 International Festival in 2014 that lists locations and information for 21 attractions in the county, as well as a 150-year history of Mohave County.
Besides Grand Canyon West, the biggest international attractions in Kingman are Route 66 and the authentic cowboy experience, both of which epitomize American history, Woytovich said.
"Although it's technically not in Kingman, Oatman is pretty authentic and promoted heavily here in town driving folks out there," she said. "Route 66 is a huge experience for tourists. Working in the Powerhouse building, I saw people taking photos with Route 66 signs all day long."
John Patt, owner of Desert Diamond Distillery, would like to see more of the "Kegs, Corks and Cocktails" tours, which take tourists to Black Bridge Brewery in downtown Kingman, Cella and Stetson wineries in Valle Vista and Desert Diamond Distillery at the Kingman Airport.
Those type of tours work well in many parts of the country, he said.
"Every year, we see more and more international tourists come to the area and to the distillery," Patt said. "Still, for the distillery, it is a small number and we would love to make it grow."
Some of Patt's customers come from overseas after learning about the distillery on the Internet and through travel articles. They usually come in small groups, often couples and families, he said.
"There really is a great deal to do here besides getting gas, especially if people like outdoors, museums, libations, wild animals and wind," Patt joked.
Kingman's tourism experience starts with the 160-mile Route 66 corridor, the longest remaining stretch of the iconic highway named the "Mother Road" in John Steinbeck's classic novel, "Grapes of Wrath."
It's the focus of many events, including the annual Fun Run from Seligman to Lake Havasu City, Best of the West on 66 festival and Chillin' on Beale Street car shows in the summer.
"We have the Route 66 Walk of Fame," said Jim Hinckley, noted author of several books on the highway and its history. "Tour groups are already including this as a destination."
Hinckley elaborated on other attractions in the area. Grand Canyon Caverns is being renovated as a full resort with campground, trail rides, miniature golf and two new cave tours starting in the spring.
The Kingman Ramada Inn has partnered with Grand Canyon Caverns to offer tour packages. The hotel markets weekend packages during the summer for Chillin' on Beale and tours of the Electric Vehicle Museum at the Powerhouse, the world's first museum dedicated solely to electric vehicles. It's been featured in magazines in Korea, Spain and Croatia.
Ramada also has package deals with Grand Canyon West and the historic Tap Duncan Ranch that now operates as Grand Canyon Western Ranch outside Meadview.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the trail system in the Cerbat and Hualapai mountains is among the best in Arizona for hikers and mountain bikers.
Marketing these attractions is relatively easy, Hinckley said.
"It starts with actively working to meet with each tour group and organizing special events for them," he said. "Next, have an articulate spokesperson attend key events such as the recent convention in Edwardsville (Ill.) or the forthcoming European Route 66 Festival in Germany that can represent Kingman."
Travelers spent $20.9 billion in Arizona in 2014, and international travelers accounted for $3.1 billion of that total, according to a report from Dean Runyan Associates of Portland, Ore.
The West Coast region of Arizona, defined as Mohave, La Paz and Yuma counties, accounted for nearly $1.4 billion in travel spending, supporting 13,180 tourism-related jobs and more than $40 million in local taxes.
"You guys do have a great destination from an international standpoint," said Stephanie Dowling, deputy director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. "Route 66 continues to be extremely popular, as well as the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam."
Arizona is truly one of the most unique travel destinations from a global perspective, she said, and certain parts of the state have more awareness than others. In general, the Chinese market is more familiar with Antelope Canyon on Navajo land east of Page, while Germans know more about Route 66.
"Even though they may be familiar with certain parts of the state, we feel our job is to educate them on all parts of the state and Kingman is part of that," Dowling said. "We work closely with Josh (Noble). He keeps us in the know, constantly sending us information on what's going on in the area that we can share with our partners."
The Arizona Office of Tourism is actively involved with Brand USA, which was established by the Travel Promotion Act of 2010.
"Our budget wouldn't necessarily allow us to do everything we want to reach international travelers. This gives us cooperative opportunities," Dowling said.