(Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series about tourism in Missouri.)
What is the number one most asked about attraction in Missouri? You may be surprised to know that a common interest in the Joplin, St. Louis, and Conway areas is Route 66.
“We get a lot of foreigners asking about Route 66 as well as out of state travelers, so it’s kind of cool to see that,” said Kamala Bramlett, supervisor of the Missouri Welcome Center on Interstate 44 in Joplin.
Each welcome center in Missouri has a Route 66 guidebook that they use to assist people on what sites there are to see in their particular area.
There are nine welcome centers in the state operated by the Missouri Division of Tourism, each located on a major highway or interstate:
• Hannibal, on Highway 61 South.
• Joplin, on Interstate 44 at the Mile Marker 2 Rest Area.
• Kansas City, on the Blue Ridge Cut-Off.
• Hayti, at Mile Marker 20 on Interstate 55.
• Rock Pork, on Interstate 29 South.
• St. Louis, on Interstate 270 at Riverview Drive.
• Eagleville, on Interstate 35 at exit 112.
• Conway-West, on Interstate 44.
• Conway-East, on Interstate 44.
“When we get people wanting to see Route 66, we give them a book and I usually send a lot of people to Cuba for all the murals and the big rocking chair, because I think that is so neat,” said Valarie Nash, assistant manager of the Conway-East Welcome Center.
Pam Ebbinghaus, manager of the St. Louis Welcome Center, explained that if people aren’t coming in to see St. Louis, they are wanting to see Route 66.
“We have a group of European travelers who come annually to explore the Route 66 areas and we have a map that we show them with all the sites they can see. Right now we send people to the history museum because they currently have a section dedicated to Route 66,” said Ebbinghaus.
For the St. Louis area of Route 66, they send people to the Chain of Rocks Bridge and to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand, which was recently named the best ice cream in the world.
“I asked them (the foreigners) why they want to see Route 66 and they say that it represents America, and because they feel like they get a good sense of what the United States is about when they travel Route 66,” said Ebbinghaus.
Other than Route 66, each welcome center gets a different pool of travelers and each center gets asked about different areas and different attractions.
In Joplin, they get about 100,000 visitors every year, according to Bramlett, and several of those travelers are coming from Oklahoma, Kansas, California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
“We, however, get several foreigners from all over that are coming to see Route 66 or other attractions,” said Bramlett.
The Joplin Welcome Center has a pin board recognizing visitors from other countries and several get represented every year.
Aside from Route 66, the number one thing the Joplin Welcome Center is asked about is Branson. The shows, the motels, various attractions, and of course, Silver Dollar City.
“Most of our travelers are traveling to the Branson, Kansas City, and St. Louis areas so Branson comes up a lot when people are coming through our area,” said Bramlett.
She said people want to know what shows are going on in Branson, if they can get coupons for shows or different places to eat, and if any new attractions have opened in the Branson area.
“In the winter we see a lot of people come out wanting to see the Christmas shows and the lights at Silver Dollar City, and that’s what really draws people out in the winter months,” said Bramlett.
Like all things, interests change with the seasons, and at the welcome center they see a trend with the seasons as well.
According to Bramlett, in the spring people want to see gardens and spring festivals. In the summer they want family activities, and activities to do outdoors, and in the fall people want to go to harvest and fall festivals.
“It’s fun to watch the changes throughout the year. You see more families in the summer since school is out and kids are free, and you see more elderly people in the winter and spring because they go on group tours, and then you have people who want to kayak, canoe, or hike almost throughout the entire year,” said Bramlett.
According to Bramlett, the summer months are pretty busy at the Joplin Welcome Center and they always have a huge fall season. In the winter they get several visitors in for Branson and spring is when it tapers off.
“We see a drop in August because kids are going back to school, then it really kicks off for fall and winter and then drops back down in the spring until May rolls around when it speeds right back up,” said Bramlett.
Other things travelers ask about are scenic drives and casinos.
“If people want a scenic drive within an hour of here, we send them to 86 Highway in the Roaring River area and work them south, and for those who want to go a little farther we send them to Ozark County, east of Branson, with all the grist mills because they are pretty neat to see,” said Bramlett.
Joplin also has a motorcycle guide that they refer to when people ask about scenic routes in the Joplin area.
With the casinos, most people are traveling from Kansas or Oklahoma and they’ve seen so many signs for them and want to know if Missouri has them.
“People want to know if the casinos have campgrounds on them, hotels, and how far away they are. We even get some travelers who, when they travel, only stay at casino campgrounds,” said Bramlett.
In Missouri, all information about what people are interested in or ask about gets reported to the Jefferson City office of the Missouri Division of Tourism, on sometimes a daily or weekly basis.
“Jefferson City does a lot of tracking and we, as the Joplin Welcome Center, do a lot of our own tracking on where people come from and what we need to stay informed on and up to date on,” said Bramlett.
When asked what the strangest thing they get asked about in the Joplin Welcome Center, Bramlett answered with, “People love the strange things about our area. They ask about oddities in the area. People look for unique or special things around here,” said Bramlett.
“What’s cool about being where we are is that we get to make the first impression about Missouri when they come and see us, and with our nice facility and hospitality we just feel like it’s a great place for them to rest and relax from being on the road.
“We are constantly learning something new every day, no day is the same, and that’s what makes it fun.”
By Mattie Link
(Make sure to check out July’s issue of the River Hills Traveler on what the St. Louis Welcome Center is like, what they get asked about, and where they send their visitors.)