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August 9, 2002

The other day, when Jim Buratti of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department was in Perry, I joined a small group of folks at the Heritage Center for a “tourism seminar” conducted by no less an authority than Mr. Buratti himself. In short order, he took us on a condensed but meaningful trip through the dos and don’ts of pursuing the tourist dollars that drive by Perry each day on I-35 and other traffic arteries. Judging from some of the coffee-shop conversations that take place here each day, most of us in Perry are aware of what we are missing in terms of tourist trade, but at the same time you have to wonder at the woeful lack of doing anything about it.

The seminar, hosted by the Perry Chamber of Commerce, started at 7:30 a.m., which may not be the best time of day for things like this. Still, if we are seriously concerned about the issue, you would think there would have been a much larger turnout. I counted fourteen attendees, including paid staff people from the Chamber of Commerce and Perry Main Street. There should have been twice that many, easily.

But, those in attendance got more than their money’s worth – and by the way, there was no charge for the seminar and the coffee and doughnuts were free. Mr. Buratti is a friendly people person and he kept the lighthearted tone of the meeting throughout. It lasted less than two hours but during that brief period he laid out plans that could easily be implemented by the many capable folks who make their home here.

One of the first things touched on by the speaker was the lack of knowledge among Perry folks about the resources we already have. “As an experiment,” he said, “I asked for directions to the Heritage Center at two locations where tourists might be expected to stop. Nobody at either place knew where it was.” That’s not a good commentary.

Mr. Buratti gave us a list of “Tourism’s Top Ten Tips for Success.” Number one on that list was “Identify Tourism Product.” In other words, know what you have to offer. On the spur of the moment, I jotted down several of these and you can probably add more. Here’s what came to my mind:

Perry was the boyhood home of the old-time movie star Buster Keaton. The family dwelling is still here. Needs a little fixing up, but it would be of interest to many tourists 2.) Downtown soda fountain. 3.) Hopes and Dreams statue and the courthouse park. 4.) Victorian homes and businesses. 5.) The Heritage Center. 6.) The downtown square (when the weeds and trash have been removed). 7.) The Ditch Witch plant and its unique story. 8.) Christmas lights in the courthouse park and elsewhere. 9) Ranches with herds of buffalo and camels. 10.) The CCC Park, when it has been cleaned up and the old church has been restored. 11.) The Cherokee Strip Museum and Rose Hill school house.

By no means is that all there is. You can develop your own list, and when you do, be prepared to lend a hand in promoting each point covered. When all of us wake up to the tourist gold mine that now lies untapped here, we’ll enjoy more benefits than we ever dreamed possible. For confirmation, ask our neighbors in Guthrie and Pawnee if the tourist trade has been good for them.