Oklahoma tourism

11th Street bridge over Route 66 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

(The Center Square) – While many sectors of the economy suffered from reduced activity and government-mandated restrictions during the pandemic, Oklahoma's tourism industry seems to have fared much better than most.

"While we are still getting the full picture of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Oklahoma’s tourism industry, it was no doubt a difficult year," David White, legislative liaison for Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, told The Center Square. "However, we are happy to report that we have fared substantially better than the U.S. numbers in all of the categories."

At the beginning of the pandemic, the state's tourism department shifted focus to highlight the many destinations right outside Oklahomans’ doors by launching the #OKHereWeGo advertising campaign.

White reports that Oklahoma state parks saw 11.5 million visitors in fiscal 2020, a 25% increase over fiscal 2019. There was also increased interest in the Oklahoma Fishing Trail, which consists of six loops across the state, highlights prime fishing opportunities and showcases Oklahoma’s diverse waterways and species. More than 3,000 new fishing licenses were ordered with $8.2 million in projected lodging revenue. With the increase in road trips during 2020, we also saw a dramatic rise in Route 66 trips, 32% overall for the year for a total of 2.8 million out-of-state visitor trips.

"By advertising to an in-state audience, we were able to encourage Oklahomans to find new and surprising attractions," White said. "This campaign resulted in projected lodging revenue of $17.3 million. During the pandemic, people were encouraged to maintain distance. Where better to practice social distance than on a hiking trail, fishing or camping with your family?"

White said that the department continues to be optimistic about the state's future. He said he's looking forward to the Route 66 centennial celebration, which Oklahoma will play a central role in since it houses more than 400 miles of the historic route, and increased camping numbers at Oklahoma State Parks.

"Oklahoma is open for business," White said. "Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, world-class museums or a taste of the Old West, we have something for you."