Matt Pinnell

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell is also Oklahoma’s first secretary of tourism and branding. One of his missions is to increase the number of out-of-state visitors to Oklahoma. We caught up with Pinnell and got his thoughts on …

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Photo courtesy Matt Pinnell

… state investment in tourism.

How much money is appropriated for marketing is an ongoing discussion with the legislature and the governor’s office, but … our marketing budget must be competitive with other states. There is a clear return on investment for money spent to market your state. Many studies over a number of years prove this. Michigan and Texas have had success with both domestic and international visitors by spending money on effective marketing campaigns to tell potential tourists why they should visit. Tourists have a range of options of where they can visit. If we aren’t selling them on why they should visit Oklahoma, we will lose out to other states that do.

… his recent marketing summit.

We are getting buy-in from individuals across industries and from all over Oklahoma, and that’s a huge accomplishment. We had over 150 of the best creative minds in Oklahoma together in one room [in August] to work on what the Oklahoma brand should be. I am told by national branding experts that this approach is truly one of a kind. Typically, a state selects a marketing firm and that firm then creates your brand. We are essentially creating our own marketing firm with experts from all across Oklahoma. We have individuals who are often competitors all working together on this [and] I’m really excited. A state branding effort should be released early next year. Stay tuned.

… Oklahoma as a tourism destination.

Partnerships between the state of Oklahoma, local convention and visitor bureaus, and chambers of commerce are vital to helping push us into the top 10 in tourism. Tulsa and Oklahoma City are doing a very effective job with their convention and visitors bureaus, and we need to do a better job of … encouraging visitors to branch off and visit other areas of the state. Many visitors are looking for an authentic American experience. Come to Oklahoma City or Tulsa to experience vibrant urban life, then drive 30 minutes to experience Main Street and small-town charm.

One of the fastest growing sectors … is agritourism. Visitors want to experience small-town life and enjoy great farm-to-table cuisine. There is no state better positioned to take advantage of this than Oklahoma. The key … is having a unified, cohesive vision for what we want to do. We … must do better on this front.

… Route 66 and fishing.

We need to play to the strengths that we have in Oklahoma. Let’s not … be something we’re not; let’s focus on the assets we have that we can sell to visitors. Route 66 is the most iconic and famous road in the world. People from across the country and the world already plan trips around experiencing Route 66. We have the most drivable miles of Route 66 in America, so why would we not promote that?

Similarly, the outdoors and fishing are a huge strength that we have in Oklahoma. Fishing is a multibillion-dollar industry. We have some of the most diverse fishing … in the country. To promote that … is a no brainer. 

I’ve focused on these areas because we can effectively market [them] to visitors.

… other Oklahoma draws.

The fact that you can be in a major metropolitan area and then experience rural America within minutes is a real selling point. There is [also] a strong interest internationally in Native American culture and western heritage. That is something that we clearly offer all across our state.

… his dual roles.

When I ran for lieutenant governor, tourism was one of the primary issues I campaigned on. The lieutenant governor has historically served as the chairman of the Oklahoma Tourism Commission. I asked Gov. [Kevin] Stitt that I be considered for the cabinet position of Secretary of Tourism and Branding. The branding component is a new … position on the cabinet. Effectively branding and marketing the state goes hand in hand with promoting tourism, so this portfolio was added to the position.

… tourism as an industry.

Agriculture, energy and aerospace are all vital industries to our state, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. We want those sectors to remain vibrant and strong. I am less interested in seeing tourism overtake these successful industries in Oklahoma than I am seeing our tourism industry become competitive nationally [because of] our state’s geographic diversity and rich history.