Tourism knows no boundaries.

Tourism knows no boundaries. 

That was the message driven home to around 30 representatives from area cities and organizations who met at the Hale McGinty Business Development Center in Neosho Wednesday to preview a new tourism video, as well as consider an appeal for cooperative regional tourism efforts.

The 15-minute film, to soon be posted on the Newton County Tourism Council website, and currently available on YouTube, focuses heavily on the murals of Newton and Jasper counties and the stories they tell. However, future videos could be made to include a much broader area, both geographically and in subject matter, it was noted Wednesday. The films could be streamed from group websites and played on hotel channels.

“Experience Peace in Our Valleys” may or may not become the permanent title of the video previewed Wednesday, but it does tie into a regional moniker that was proposed for this area: Flora, Fauna, and Flowing Waters.

Steve Roark, tourism council board president, said the name was experimental at this point, but was something the region could lay claim to.

“This is part of an umbrella that could unite southwest Missouri, northeast Oklahoma, southeast Kansas all together under a common banner so when we each spend money we do so with a common purpose that brings everybody together,” Roark told the group, which represented people from all three states.

Roark said he wasn’t yet sure if northwest Arkansas was on board with combining its tourism efforts with neighboring locales.

The problem, as Roark said was pointed out by Silver Dollar City founder Pete Herschend, is that any particular location in this region isn’t big enough to be a tourism destination by itself.

“We’ve got to think outside our imaginary borders that we call county and state lines and adopt a regional approach for tourism,” Roark said.

Pete Hall, Joplin hotel owner and Newton County Tourism Council board member, added that most people traveling down the highway while on vacation neither know nor care what county they are in.

“The first objective is to try and break down those barriers that we ourselves have made,” Hall said.

Roark would have the current activities of the Newton County Tourism Council expanded to include the three-state region with the help and collaboration of area partners, and it was even suggested that changing the name of the organization to reflect a regional mission could be a part of that.

Operating without a tax base since its formation in 2005, the Newton County Tourism Council has undertaken a number of projects in its seven years of existence, including three symposiums, three public television documentaries, sponsorship of multiple murals, creation of an interactive tourism website and publication of walking and driving tour brochures on local murals, among other activities.

However, Roark said Wednesday that it may be time to “cross pollinate” those efforts with other groups in other states to help bring tourism to the region.

“We’ve kind of taken care of it for several years, and we’re ready to share now,” Roark said, specifically referring to promoting area murals, though it also dovetails with proposals for regional cooperation.

Hall said the idea isn’t to replace tourism and promotion efforts being made by other organizations elsewhere in the region, but to unite those efforts.

“We see this as an effort to bring it all together to build that synergy, to build that critical mass, so that it benefits all of us,” Hall said. “It goes back to our original goal that tourism knows no boundaries.”

Roark noted that the biggest draws to the area are the “destination casinos,” namely Downstream, near Joplin, and the new Indigo Sky casino, near Seneca, which held its grand opening Wednesday. Located on the Oklahoma line, both casinos are close enough to other markets that it is reasonable to believe that aggressively promoting things to see and do in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas could be beneficial to everyone, Roark indicated.

“They know, as we know, that everybody doesn’t have to come here and spend 24 hours a day in a casino,” Roark said. “There are people now who don’t want to come here, or won’t let their spouse come, because they don’t want to just stay in the casino and gamble. Well, look at the driving maps, look at all the things we have to do. They can go out and participate in those things. We hope to convince our casino friends that we are broadening their market. And we believe that we are.”

Rick Radford, chief financial officer with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, which owns Indigo Sky casino, said Wednesday the focus of the promotional videos should be less on cities and communities and more on the stories of the people and events attached to them, including the Native American story.

“It should be broader, with no boundaries, just be about this general region,” Radford said.

Sketching out a game plan is the next step. Things that would work in a Kansas City or Springfield market won’t work in this area, Roark noted.

Mike Seibert, Joplin city council member, said he liked the new tourism video previewed Wednesday and also the idea of showing it on hotel channels to help persuade guests to extend their stay. He said the second arm of that is working out a campaign to find avenues to get the video out there to attract the people not already staying in the area.

“You obviously have got the tool,” Seibert said. “I think the challenge now is to brainstorm with the different resources and start implementing it.”

The idea of a central website was also mentioned, in which all of the regional attractions would be represented, and include links to the individual websites.

“I think we’re all still being too separate,” Roark said. “Maybe this is a first step. Maybe this is where we create a common place to put all of our websites together...and then maybe a year or two from now we decide to do something just a little bolder and tear down some more boundaries.”