County picks app to attract more visitors

Robert Smith

Osage County commissioners agreed Monday to pay for a year of access to a website application to help generate increased tourist interest.

The county will pay $5,838, which includes a $299-per-month charge and a one-time setup fee of $2,250. Kelly Bland, executive director of Osage County tourism, said the setup fee had been discounted from $2,500 to $2,250. The app will help potential visitors, as well as tour operators, to design trip itineraries, she said.

Bland described the app, which she and members of the Osage County Tourism Board had examined, as very professional. Commissioners decided to invest in it for a year, and see how much it helps to improve the awareness and responses of those interested in making trips to the county.

Other funding requests Bland presented Monday, and which the county commissioners approved, included: $500 for the 49th annual Kihekah Steh powwow, scheduled for July 27-29; support for a “Painting the Osage” event scheduled for Oct. 19-21 by Alpha Rho Tau — Civic Art Association, a Tulsa-based group, $600; Bland’s attendance at the Wichita Women’s Fair next February, $550; Bland’s attendance at the Arkansas Home and Outdoor Living Show next April in Rogers, Ark., $475; Bland’s participation in the fiscal year 2019 Oklahoma Group Travel Trade Program, which will give Osage County officials access to information and services offered by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, $800; Bland’s access to the Oklahoma booth at the 2019 American Bus Association Conference in Louisville, Ky., $1,000.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney asked Bland to provide the county commissioners with reports on the effectiveness of the various tourism-related expenses that the board approved.

In a tourism-related discussion Monday that took place after Bland had conducted her business and left the meeting, Emergency Management Director Jerry Roberts asked the county commissioners about efforts to bring greater hotel and motel accommodations to Pawhuska.

Roberts commented about the Osage County Fairgrounds losing events because of a shortage of lodging in the area. Kandy Jump, assistant to the commissioners, recalled the loss of a large music event.

“It’s just hard to believe that nobody was interested in Osage County,” Roberts said, commenting about whether hotel and motel businesses are interested in the area.

McKinney said it would be hard for a hotel or motel chain to justify a large facility in Osage County if it would only be full a fraction of the year.

Jeff Bute, chairman of the Cavalcade Rodeo, who was present during the discussion, said most hotel and motel operators are looking for regular occupancy rates in the range of 65-70 percent.

“We’re doing that for Washington County right now,” Roberts said.

Asked later for a comment on the lodging discussion, Bland acknowledged the need for more lodging accommodations in Osage County, and said she would prefer to see someone from the local area invest in that line of business, with the idea of keeping the profits in the area, rather than having that money flow out of Osage County.