Group discusses tourism strategies

Posted on January 30th in News

A diverse group of residents attended the meeting, hosted by Travel Oregon, to talk about strengthening economic impacts of tourism. (Photo by JENNIFER JENKS)

State has $8.7 billion tourism industry

By Jennifer Jenks
Burns Times-Herald

A diverse group of Harney County citizens gathered Jan. 17 to discuss tourism realities and strategies for the county at a meeting hosted by Travel Oregon and facilitated by Randy Harrington of the Eugene-based Strategic Arts & Sciences.

The meeting was one of many “Stakeholder Facilitated Conversations” Travel Oregon is hosting around the state. The Oregon Tourism Commission, doing business as Travel Oregon, is a semi-independent agency created by the Oregon Legislature in 2003 to “enhance Oregonian’s quality of life by strengthening economic impacts of the state’s $8.7 billion tourism industry,” according to their website. A nine-member board appointed by the governor, the Oregon Tourism Commission, governs the Travel Oregon staff and programs.

The agency is funded by a 1 percent statewide transient lodging tax.

Those attending included representatives from the county court, both cities, the Burns Paiute Tribe and federal agencies, as well as business owners and community volunteers. Some were born and raised in Harney County, while others were more recent transplants, and they came from a variety of backgrounds. All in all, a large segment of the Harney County population was represented, and the participants brought a variety of ideas to the table to encourage tourism in the area.

Travel Oregon CEO Todd Davidson opened the meeting by expressly thanking the elected officials for taking the time to attend, “Not a lot of elected officials show up to our meetings, so I wanted to say we really appreciate your being here.”

The meeting, Harrington then explained, was being held to listen to Oregonians about the challenges they face in their communities and their plans and goals for overcoming them. The goal was to help drive Travel Oregon’s strategic planning process.

Harrington had everyone split into groups to discuss five topics: socio-economics, challenges / opportunities, planning, value proposition and Travel Oregon. The groups discussed the topics amongst themselves and then shared their ideas with the other groups, facilitated by Harrington.

The first question discussed was what the socio-economic realities impacting the future of the community are. Some of the thoughts brought up were getting people who already come here to stay, lack of opportunities (recreational, development, etc.), decrease in travel statewide, restrictions by federal agencies, location (isolated), loss of the younger population, great school system, low crime rate, low economic development, lack of transportation, great geology and abundant wildlife.

One table noted that more trails in the forest could open the doors for more tourism. Another said we needed to capitilize on the recreational opportunities we already have here, as well, noting people could provide guided tours and there could be a rental shop for bikes and snowmobiles.

The groups next discussed what challenges and opportunities they saw for the community / region. One challenge brought up was that there is not a good dissemination of information regarding where trails are located, and that signs needed to be put up.

Another was that there were so many different organizations, some working toward the same goals, that don’t work together, noting that they could go a lot further if they all worked together. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty interjected, “On a positive note, this community has a great legacy of volunteering.”

A third challenge noted was the lack of work opportunities. It was argued that with 56 percent of the population working for the government here, it is not sustainable. An idea was brought forth to attract businesses here that fit with the lifestyle, and that the businesses would probably do better if they were recruited with that in mind.

Opportunities noted included bicyclists, military troop convoys coming through this summer at which vendors could peddle their wares, historic buildings and areas, motorcyclists, hunters and outdoor recreationists. One table talked about the variety of festivals, some of which have stopped or fizzled out over the years, including Scottie or Hilander Day, the Basque Festival, Powwow and the Jamboree and suggested having a sort of Scottish-Basque-Paiute-Fiddlers Day to showcase all the heritage in Harney County.

Other ideas included having a Trucker Day to support the truckers who travel through on highways 20 and 395 and celebrating what we already have here. “We’re a muscular town, we’re not Sisters,” said Sue Kovar, a volunteer for the Main Street Program. “We should celebrate what fits our lifestyle.”

The third topic asked the groups to question what their current plan to overcome / realize the challenges and opportunities in front of them was. One table thought the county should have one person with the responsibility of building relationships between groups and bringing them together.

Another noted the county needed to focus on finding the “right” person to tell our story to the “right” people to attract visitors here. They pointed out a lot more rifle events, long range shoots, and tactical shoots could be held and that might also attract manufactureres who fit with the Harney County lifestyle. They suggested the plan should be to narrow down what the problems and concerns are that are most imperative to be addressed so everone can be on the same page.

Another suggestion was to focus energy on educating and informing others about what Harney County is and what it has to offer. “Everywhere I go, there’s a pamphlet on jet boats on the Rogue River,” Hines City Adminstrator Joan Davies said. “We need something like that.”

The fourth topic was what the tourism differentiator / unique value proposition for the community is. Harney County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jen Hoke said she thought the county’s top-drawing attractions were on public land – hunting, birding, the Steens Mountain, the Malheur National Widlife Refuge.

Regarding birding, it was noted that some people associate “birders” with environmentalists and there are divisive feelings there.

Denny Thomas, owner of B&B Sporting Goods, noted the hunting in Harney County is diverse, with varmints, birds and big game. “Most places don’t have that variety,” he said.

In addition to the Steens and the refuge, other attractions noted were the Round Barn, Frenchglen, Diamond Craters, Alvord Desert, hot springs, forest, desert, fishing and camping. It was noted we have the highest 10K race in Oregon, the Steens Rim Run, and there is also the Steens Mountain Running Camp. There is a local orchestra and choir, and the Harney County Arts in Education Foundation has been bringing outside talent in.

Events that draw tourists include the Bird Festival, which Hoke stated kicks off Harney County’s tourist season, the Jamboree, Obsidian Days, the Desert Dash Rally (which no longer takes place), the Quilt Show (which also stopped, but an Art Walk was started to replace it), Saturday Market, the fair and rodeo, 4th of July parade, Basque Festival, Chili Cookoff and the Christmas events.

The final topic of the afternoon was what Travel Oregon can specifically do to most effectively support this community. Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette said when people think about Oregon, they think about the coast, Multnomah Falls, things like that. “We feel like we don’t matter out here,” he said, “as if we don’t have a lot to offer.” He said he would like to have Travel Oregon as an advocate to tell others what we have here.

Hoke added that Travel Oregon could help identify the best market for our county. “They are the expert in telling the Oregon story,” she said. “How do we get the most bang for our buck?”

“I see huge potential here,” Harrington noted, “but frustration because you know what you have, but no one else does.”

“I think we have all the pieces to make this happen,” Hoke said. “It’s just how do we put them together?”

Davidson said the results of the statewide meeting would be discussed at the governor’s tourism conference later this year and will be used to help inform the long-term strategic direction of Travel Oregon and Oregon’s Tourism and Hospitality Industry Consortium.

Travel Oregon holds webinars throughout the year at various locations around the state. For more information about Travel oregon, visit or

6 Responses to “Group discusses tourism strategies”

  1. Kathy Bean Says:

    “Other ideas included having a Trucker Day to support the truckers who travel through on highways 20 and 395 and celebrating what we already have here. “We’re a muscular town, we’re not Sisters,” said Sue Kovar, a volunteer for the Main Street Program. “We should celebrate what fits our lifestyle.”

    Really, a TRUCKER DAY?! My husband literally just received a ticket for illegal parking on Rt 20, by McDonald’s in Burns, OR. The officer told him one of your councilmen sits across the road at his Shell station, and complains immediately, if any trucker stops along side the road to get food at McDonald,s. Doesn’t sound like this particular councilman will be on board with this idea.

    I hope someone there reminds him that if it weren’t for the truckers, he would not have the ease of sitting in his lawn chair waiting to pull his weight[and I hear there is quite a bit of it]. He would be too busy trying to get food to his table, cause it wouldn’t be in the store. The chair he sits in, he would have to make himself, cause it wouldn’t be in a store either.

  2. Mr. Krillex Says:

    Birders come to Harney County with a twenty dollar bill and a pair of underwear and don’t change either.

  3. Dan Carter Says:

    Attitudes and comments like the one from Mr. Krillex above won’t attract visitors or development to Harney County. They are also factually incorrect, as almost anyone that has a destination in Harney county will at least buy gas here, and perhaps a meal.

  4. Dwight H. Says:

    There should also be a Jeruselum Cricket Day in Harney County.

    Never heard of it? Go dig anywhere south of town and you’ll find one of those freaky bugs.

  5. Leo Leonardo Says:

    The contradiction in the above article describing the meeting is as follows. With more “rifle events” the locals support hunters who are destroying exactly what other ‘tourists’ come to see here–wildlife. Everything is connected. If you shoot Belding’s Ground Squirrels in spring (that’s also called Sage Rat Hunting) and cougars in fall and the coyote slaughter in winter, or any time, you shoot part of the system that supports other living things, notably the food chain and the balance of nature, such as it is in the High Desert. For example a lot of feral house cats now kill off the birds and bird eggs in the wetlands. Coyotes at least help solve that problem. This is a needless and ill-advised slaughter of animals, no matter how many times the self-serving coyote hunters want you to believe that this is actually good for young of deer and pronghorns. What about the problem of wild horses?

    Harney locals talk a lot about heritage and way of life, but they also support the destructive killing of the wildlife that supports that lifestyle. It’s time people in Harney County had a closer look at their contradictory values.

    As for Harney residents who make fun of the wildlife and nature tourists, consider this. Environmental tourists—hikers, bikers, birders, astronomers, biologists, desert flower lovers, artists, people seeking spiritual enlightenment, individuals, groups, families, vacationers, (besides hunters) spend their dollars in Burns and Hines. The county seat needs this kind of business to survive as a town. Heads up all Harney farmers and ranchers–you may not like tourists who leave the occasional gate open (hunters do that too) but do you want the town to die for lack of business? Do you want only a grocery and a farm store left to purchase anything? The town has been shrinking for a while. To what degree are you contributing to the town’s poverty and demise by denigrating environmental tourists, and singling out hunting tourists as the only kind welcome in the county?

    In local conversations, tourists are the brunt of jokes. They are open season as regards their lifestyle, buying habits, insufficient wealth, being from some other part of the state of Oregon such as west of the Cascades, habits such as sweating in sweat lodges, (ok, that’s a pretty funny image, but spirituality can take many forms, and who are we to say city yuppies can’t have religion–at least they are sweating benignly in lodges….) coming from California, coming from Washington, coming from large towns as opposed to small towns, being environmentalists, not being hunters, not knowing about our way of life, not being just like us, etc. etc. etc. This criticism of any tourists at all except hunters, combined with patting oneself on the back for having a country lifestyle, which is generally pretty poor by the way considering, anyhow this line of criticism is like shooting oneself in the foot. Harney County should be doing a LOT more to cater to tourists, other than hunters who kill local wildlife and leave a mess.

    The northern part of the Great Basin is a beautiful place. People need to understand the fragility of this environment both fundamentally and biologically. You can’t kill nature to save it. And tourists at least support the county economy without directly killing off local wildlife, which same animals are part of a system, and which animals directly contribute to the special qualities of the place.

    Instead of criticizing all tourists except the hunters, the county should be doing a lot more to support environmental tourism.

  6. Wes Firestarter Says:

    Harney County is the sage rat killing capital of the world. If the investments were made, thousands of people would come here to shoot rats every year. But first we need to build motels, McDonalds, and bars in Crane.

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