Governor Laura Kelly Monday announced she intends to submit an executive order to the Kansas Legislature aimed at moving the State’s Tourism Division to the Kansas Department of Commerce from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, a change seen as positive by local and state officials.
The move comes as the result of input from businesses, destination marketing organizations and other key industry partners, including the Travel Industry Association of Kansas, The Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association, and the Kansas Economic Development Alliance, to consolidate Kansas’s tourism efforts primarily as an economic development tool.
“Tourism in our state is so vital to the local and statewide economy’s,” said Christina Hayes, Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau director. “We know that Tourism is an Economic Development tool and regardless of where we are in the state, we have a strong message and great goals to help drive forth Kansas tourism.”
The travel sector is an integral part of the Kansas economy contributing more than $11 billion in expenditures and sustains over 96,000 jobs, according to state numbers. In Barton County, tourism generated $53.9 million in 2019, as well as over $3 million in state and local tax revenue.
Kelly will submit the order to the Legislature on Jan. 25. The executive reorganization order becomes effective on July 1, following its transmittal to the Legislature, unless within 60 calendar days, either the Senate or House adopts a resolution disapproving it.
“Consolidating our Tourism focus within the Department of Commerce sends a clear message to our industry partners and prospective companies that this administration will use every tool at our disposal to spur new economic development,” Kelly said. “This realignment will benefit our business community, our tourism industry, and Kansas’s economic recovery as a whole.”
After 25 years in Commerce, Tourism was relocated to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks in 2011 when Gov. Sam Brownback signed a similar order. At that time, Brownback said moving the tourism group combines the resources and talents of two state agencies with the same goal of promoting Kansas and attracting visitors to the state’s parks, historical sites and events.
However, “we all know that tourism drives economic development, so there’s a good partnership,” Hayes said. “They are really wanting to push together to put Kansas at the top of all the other states.”
“We wanted to make sure that we are maximizing opportunities for the hospitality industry,” Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland said. Hotels, restaurants and related businesses have suffered during COVID. “Never has it been more important to get people into these establishments.”
“We also see it as a chance to improve our tourism,” Toland said. Because tourism is really an economic development activity, it made sense to house it in Commerce, the state’s eco devo agency.
“This is a move the tourism industry has supported and it is the right time for this change,” said Travel Industry Association of Kansas President Jim Zaleski. “Kansas Tourism and the Department of Commerce have a shared goal of bringing revenue into the state. A coordinated marketing effort will help establish and promote a consistent, strong state brand and a single ‘front door’ to Kansas.”
The Tourism Division will be housed within Business Development at the Kansas Department of Commerce. The Department already features several tools aimed at increasing tourism, including the Kansas Athletic Commission and the STAR Bond program.
“There’s a lot going right with tourism,” Toland said. “This move will create a more robust, centralized effort to attract tourism to the state of Kansas. I appreciate the work that the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has put into this vital program, and I’m excited to see our team pursue new possibilities to increase tourism to Kansas.”
As a result of the order, the KDWPT will be once again designated as the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
“It’s exciting to see Tourism being positioned as a key part of our state’s economic development strategy,” KDWPT Secretary Brad Loveless said. “I fully support this decision and look forward to continued collaboration with the talented Tourism Division staff to promote our state’s wonderful natural resources.”
Toland said the move to KDWP was to encourage more outdoor tourism. That effort will continue with the change.
The Tourism Division has a staff of 13, all located in Topeka. They will all move across the street into the KDC office.