Travel study points out Shawnee problems, potential

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
This week Berkeley Young, with Young Strategies Inc., presented Shawnee city commissioners with highlights of a study he was commissioned to do on travel in Shawnee.

Though the pandemic caused some challenges in the effort, a Shawnee travel market research study was initiated last fall; the results were presented to city leaders this week.

On Tuesday, Berkeley Young, of Young Strategies Inc., shared highlights of his assessment, showing where he believes Shawnee sits on the tourism scale and what can be done to improve it.

After checking out what Shawnee has to offer, Young analyzed the hotel/motel market in the area, collected data on visitors, and made some recommendations for city leaders to consider.

He said hotel occupancy is a solid indicator of tax revenue being driven into the city.

It stands to reason that since overnight stays can mean up to three times more money spent (than from day-trippers), that boosting lengthier stays is a goal. With that said, a glaring issue made a heavy mark when data confirmed a significant number of overnight stays in Shawnee have been lost since mid-2013.

What happened? The Grand Casino Hotel and Resort began operation. Young said the Grand has cornered the full-service hotel market since it's the only one in the area — and it's literally less than 10 miles from the city's hotel hub next to Interstate 40. More importantly, it's not filling Shawnee's coffers with tax revenue.

That presents a big challenge for Shawnee hotels trying to secure those dollars.

In Young's report, he said the Shawnee lodging market was outpacing the national lodging occupancy average before July 2013 when the Grand Casino opened.

“The significant drop occurred when large blocks of business transient travelers were moved from the Shawnee hotels to the casino where airport and local shuttles and on-site dining made a significant improvement for the business travelers,” he said. According to Young's data, Shawnee’s lodging tax collecting hotel occupancy has been outpaced by national occupancy since 2014.

Though steep competition from the Grand remains high for local hotels, there is a bright side; Shawnee has a lot to offer, Young said.

Many major attractions draw visitors, like Shawnee Mall, Downtown Shawnee, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center, several casinos, the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art and Oklahoma Baptist University.

There also are particular activities capturing the interest of many travelers, such as shopping, sight-seeing and gaming, he said.

“Shawnee is a successful destination for business, university and sports travelers and must add appealing experiences to attract leisure visitors and compete with other Oklahoma destinations,” Young said in his report. “The Shawnee leisure tourism market is currently driven by activities along the interstate highway corridor and outside the city limits. Shawnee is not currently competitive in the state as a small-town leisure getaway.”

Pictured is a slide in Young Strategies Inc.'s travel market assessment presented to Shawnee city commissioners this week.

He listed several ways the city could work toward improving leisure travel to town:

• Downtown Shawnee as a thriving hub of activity for residents and visitors alike. Support the merchants, city and chamber in affiliating downtown as an official Oklahoma Main Street community. The Oklahoma Main Street program is award winning and has a remarkable history of success. Downtown Shawnee looks good having made substantial investments in infrastructure and the development of new businesses. It’s time to double- down and continue investing until every building is occupied, the sidewalks are busy, the parking spaces are filled and the businesses are thriving.

• The magic hours of 5 to 9 p.m. will be emphasized for evening activities and entertainment to convert day trippers to overnight visitors and drive increased demand for those looking for a unique experience in Shawnee.

• Improve and add new running, hiking and bicycle paths/trails, making it easier for visitors to travel from downtown and hotels to dining, shopping, and activities without using a motorized vehicle. Add bicycle lanes to roadways. A walkable/cycle-friendly community makes it easy to get outside and get active.

• Encourage the development of a master plan for Shawnee Twin Lakes as recreational amenity that is also a productive asset for the citizens. A lake in the city limits is a great asset for Shawnee and has the potential to be a major driver of future visitation. The current boat ramp could be developed as a functioning marina as a hub for swimming, kayaking and other non-motorized water activities.

• Recruit outfitter/guide to provide access to rental bikes, kayaks, canoes, etc., as well as guided outdoors experiences.

• Develop winter activities to drive growth in the off-season. Indoor/outdoor facilities for sports and recreation can drive growth.

• Encourage new recreation events to drive the shoulder and off-season and build recognition of Shawnee as an active-lifestyle destination – runs/races, fishing tournaments, archery, rodeos, competitions, etc.

• Encourage new, unique downtown shopping and dining experiences that will make Shawnee a must-stay destination to compete with other destinations in the region.

For more information, read all the details in Young's report; go to visitshawnee.com/plan2021.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.