The opportunities for economic development and for fueling an historic district renaissance presented by the international fascination with Route 66 can not be overstated. Communities such as Pontiac, Illinois that used Route 66 as a catalyst for dramatic revitalization is an example. With a population of less than 12,000 people Pontiac benefitted from demonstrable double digit annual increases in sales tax revenue for several years. And it is consistently recognized as a destination city in Illinois. It was even promoted on the Illinois Office of Tourism float in the 134th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
There are active organizations that promote Route 66, foster development of Route 66 events, and that organize tours based in the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan and several other countries. There are companies that specialize in Route 66 tours, with side trips to sites such as the Grand Canyon or the London Birdge in Lake Havasu City, based in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, England, and the Czech Republic.
In 2016, and again in 2018, the European Route 66 Festival attracted large crowds that celebrated that highway as well as American cars and music. Organizers estimate that more than 20,000 people from ten countries attended the 2018 festival in Zlin, Czech Republic.
Organizers for the 2022 Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Missouri announced that the event drew about 65,000 people. According to the Springfield Business Journal: “City spokesperson Cora Scott said the downtown Springfield festival drew in attendees from 32 states and 18 countries. With a “mile-long festival footprint,” the Aug. 11-13 event had 700 parade entries and car show registrants, 12,000 concert attendees with three days and nights of music acts, and 210 motorcycles in the motorcycle show and Poker Run events, Scott said.”
The fast approaching Route 66 centennial in 2026 has exponentially increased interest in the highway with media and with travelers. A Route 66 Centennial Commission was established by Congress to study and recommend activities to celebrate the centennial anniversary of this highway even though Route 66 hasn’t officially existed as a US highway since 1985. Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois have established Route 66 centennial commissions.
In 2022, AAA kicked off the first in a series of annual Route 66 Road Fests in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This highlights that city’s efforts to use Route 66 related tourism as a component in long term economic development planning. Recently the Tulsa Route 66 Commission cited the success of the city’s neon-sign grant program in an announcement that they were launching a similar grant program for special events. In a Facebook post the commission noted that the new program is designed to “encourage heritage tourism and economic development through special Route 66 events and to help Tulsa prepare for the Centennial in 2026.”
Surprisngly, many communities along the highway corridor have yet to capitalize on the opportunities presented by Route 66 tourism. A number of them have not used Route 66 as a means to promote attractions unique to that community such as filming locations for major motion pictures, historic sites, urban trail systems or festivals. Other communities approach Route 66 related marketing or event development in a piecemeal and anemic manner. But resultant of interest in the Route 66 centennial there is a growing awareness.
The Route 66 Info Fair at the historic El Garces in Needles, California scheduled for Saturday, February 11 will provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about Route 66 travel and tourism. Participants at the 2022 fair included the tourism director from Atlanta, Illinois, and representatives from the Texas Old Route 66 Association as well as the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Association.
I will be in attendance to promote Route 66, the highway’s centennial, and the Jim HInckley’s America travel network. I will also be answering questions pertaining to Route 66 and to provide an array of road trip planning materials such as visitors guides provided by the City of Tucumcari, and materials from Route 66 businesses such as the iconic Wagon Wheel Motel.