Outside of Tulsa, Ottawa and Delaware counties are leading the way in northeast Oklahoma tourism.

A report issued in September by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department indicates the two-county area brought in more than $519.9 million in direct visitor spending and provided approximately 31% of jobs created by travel for a nonmetropolitan area.

The report, which uses data from 2017, indicates statewide, Oklahoma brought in $8.9 billion in direct visitor travel spending and had more than 100,900 jobs linked to the tourism industry.

“When you put Ottawa and Delaware Counties together, we are the third-largest tourism destination behind Oklahoma City and the Tulsa metro,” said Donnie Crain, president of Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s pretty impressive the remote corner of northeast Oklahoma; from a tourism perspective is the third-largest destination.”

Amanda Davis, executive director of Miami, Oklahoma’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, sees the growth coming from the region’s public and private partnerships.

“Ottawa County has a lot of people working for the same common goal,” Davis said. “We have a big push to welcome new visitors. This tells me our message is being received. We are telling people this is a great place to stop as they come through the Midwest.”

She sees the numbers, which indicate Ottawa County had $340 million in direct visitor spending as an indicator everyone on the “front lines” from casinos and attractions are working together to help the visitor have a good experience.

“We do a good job as the welcome mat for the entire state of Oklahoma,” Davis said. “It also shows why it’s important, when we are out on the road, that we are not just talking about Miami, but all of Ottawa County and the four counties (of northeast Oklahoma).

“Tourism is an economic engine (for the region).”

Oklahoma Tourism Commissioner Andy Stewart, who owns and operates Patricia Island Country Club in Grove, is encouraged by the recent report.

“We’ve seen an increase due to growth around Grand Lake, which has been organic growth,” Stewart said. “I don’t think we’ve seen what a truly marketed Grand Lake can draw. There’s a ton of potential there that’s still untapped.”

“I think it’s going to keep growing,” Stewart said. “With the potential for growth available, I think we’ll see the numbers continue to escalate.

The numbers and the ranking of tourism as the third-largest industry in the state, come as no surprise to Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell.

“No state can match our heritage and history,” Pinnell said. “If you want to see America — it’s past, present and future — you have to see Oklahoma.”

Since coming into office in January, Pinnell has championed tourism as one of his key programs. This fall, he is hosting a series of travel and tourism summits throughout the state with the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association.

Each half-day session focuses on tourism education, and how local communities can best promote tourism in their region. The summit in northeast Oklahoma was held last Tuesday at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore.

Pinnell said the meetings are important, because they help people the best practices for tourism with a goal to empower them to increase tourism revenue.

“Oklahoma is one of the most sales-tax dependent states in the country,” Pinnell said. “For that reason, the sales tax generated from Oklahoma tourism is vital to our cities across the state.”

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