How to Create Attractions in Rural Places

At one point in time I thought Frederick, Oklahoma was the only town in the universe. When I got a little older I thought it was as far away from the rest of the universe as possible. After spending two weeks driving through the outback, I've decided it's a little of both. Actually, compared to towns in the outback, Frederick is quite a metropolitan area. During my journey there were days when we would drive hundreds of kilometers without passing a town or grocery store. In fact, the main attractions between each town turned out to be roadside stations with fuel, food and weird sculptures. (More about that over here.)

 

So what turned these seemingly insignificant places into iconic places that I had to pull over and see? After days in the car thinking about it, I've got the answer. These gas stations had two things: a historic story and publicity. While that sounds very grandiose, let me take a minute to explain.

 

Before beginning our trip I knew next to nothing about what lay ahead in our outback journey. Most of the towns are too small to pop up on google and the free travel guides were trying their hardest to make mountains out of molehills. In the back seat of the car I flipped through these guides, disappointed that they were all two-sentence snippets on gas stations. Frustrated, I turned to my good buddy Pinterest and read several blogs on the outback scene. Here I saw pictures of these same gas stations with people having fun visiting them. I read a few sentences beneath each picture and suddenly I had to get my own picture with the weird sculptures and historic buildings! With each rest stop we approached I spouted off facts I had read about when the station was built and why it was significant. The facts were usually pretty short and bland but they were interesting enough to convince my friends to pull over for a picture.

 

So let's dissect this situation. What two things did I stumble upon that made the rest stops attractive? A historic story (even as short as a sentence) and publicity (even as small as a blog post I found on Pinterest.) These two things are so small yet they can make a significant difference in our tourism economy.

 

Joe Wynn often told me that people love to hear stories about Frederick. He said that's what caused people to travel to Southwest Oklahoma as a destination. He's right. Tourists want to hear stories. It honestly doesn't matter what the story is about, they just want to learn a little something about your culture or history so they can better understand it. The great thing about this is that Southwest Oklahoma has a billion stories to tell; both historical and cultural. The hard part now, is writing it down.

 

Writing down the story of an attraction used to mean something complicated like landing a feature story in the New York Times or purchasing a $4000 ad in a travel magazine. The beautiful thing about the new millennium is that there has never been a better time to broadcast stories. Thanks to the internet we have a plethora of sources for sharing our stories and the best part is, it's mostly free and mostly available to amateurs like you and I. Think about the following ways that you can contribute to telling the story of rural Oklahoma.

  • Facebook-Facebook is by far the simplest and easiest way to share a good story. Anyone and everyone can broadcast their thoughts using this simple tool, for better or for worse. The key is using it wisely and responsibly. After reading a positive online article from your local Chamber or newspaper, why not share it to your profile so your out of town friends can read it to? Also, share your positive experience after visiting a local attraction or event. This is something we could all stand to do a lot more.

  • Pinterest-Blogs, newspaper articles, websites of attractions and museums and cities--they should all be linking themselves to Pinterest. Did you know that 80% of Pinterest is repins? Think how quickly a positive story could go viral! And how simple is it to click the red P while you're visiting your favorite local website? That's how we can do our part. Simply sitting on our gadgets clicking buttons.
     
  • Trip Advisor-Trip advisor is another easy way to make a difference. It takes three minutes to write a review and post some pictures from the restaurants and businesses you visit regularly.
     
  • Blogging-Maybe you're a bit more ambitious. Then write a review or even better, a blog post. Share with the web why you believe in your town and why it's worth visiting. Then repeat the previous steps.

 

Want to know the greatest news ever? By doing the things listed above you are also contributing to the publicity side of the equation too. Did I mention the internet is a beautiful thing?

 

And because SWOK has dozens of lakes, mountain ranges, plains, farms, museums and memorials, think of all the stories waiting to be told. What tiny tidbit do you know about a landmark or building that you could share with others? Think about all the small things we have that aren't publicized. In the outback we took pictures with things as simple as a fence or a rock with a shirt, simply because we read stories that made these things interesting.

 

This post originally posted on Tillman County News