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Opinion: Travel through time, travel the world in southwest Missouri

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Sometimes, Midwesterners have an inferiority complex about touting local attractions to visitors because natural attractions in the region do not include oceans and high mountain peaks. But in the heartland, sandwiched between Northern Nice and Southern Hospitality, southwest Missouri boasts natural beauty and cultural attractions.

The Ozark mountains have scenic rivers and trails. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake and many more outdoor adventure options. This magic area of the Midwest can be like Disney – where dreams come true – if people take time to explore. In fact, over 10 million visitors come to the area annually.

People travel for a variety of reasons; tourists’ motivations include seeking and escaping. Whether individuals seek a new adventure or want to escape a daily routine, they can do it in southwest Missouri. When people travel to visit friends and family, this is referred to as a VFR market — those who visit friends and relatives for vacation.

For a VFR market, there is plenty to see and do in the area. By promoting area attractions to visitors, it supports the local economy. Tourism dollars spent here have a multiplier effect in that the money circulates locally to create jobs and support infrastructure. While Midwesterners are often humble about their surroundings, it is OK to have a positive image of southwest Missouri and encourage others to visit.

Here is some hype to help convince friends and family to explore the fun, unique and beautiful attractions available in our own backyard.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, gastronomy tourism links food to tourism activities. Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. has the Ozarks Coffee Trail, Ozarks Tap and Pour Tour and the new Springfield Cashew Chicken Trail to help visitors try popular food and beverages in the area.

Food neophilia refers to those who love trying new or unfamiliar foods. For these people, Springfield and surrounding towns have a rich variety of cuisines to offer, from BBQ to Dutch, Indian, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican and more.

Visitors who want to delve into historical tourism or be a time traveler in the area can explore a historic site like the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Republic, Smallin Civil War Cave in Ozark or the iconic Silver Dollar City in Branson, with its famous Time Traveler roller coaster. If the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest spinning coaster is not your speed, there are many other period-inspired attractions at this 1880s theme park. Its more than 100 craftsmen, like blacksmiths and glass blowers who use crafting methods of yesteryear, earned the park the Home of American Craftsmanship designation by the U.S. Congress.

For visitors looking for something in the 20th-century era, play the 1946 hit song, “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” while cruising on Route 66. Automotive enthusiasts can cruise any time of the year or celebrate during the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in Springfield. This year’s festival theme is “Get Your Motor Runnin’” and takes place Aug. 8-10.

It’s also possible to travel the world without leaving the area. In Springfield, see penguins, sharks and Great Barrier Reef eels at the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium. For a more budget-friendly experience, take a stroll through the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden at the Springfield Botanical Gardens. Head down to Saddlebrook to spend time with big cats, like tigers, lions and leopards at the National Tiger Sanctuary.

Want to experience what the Persian empire was like? Then head to Branson’s Sight & Sound Theatres to catch the live production of “Queen Esther.” While there, experience the world of Disney at the Lighthouse Immersive Studios through the new and limited-time Immersive Disney Animation feature. You can travel through time with early and new animations, as well as travel the world with Aladdin and Simba.

For those who prefer nature-based ventures, there are many outdoor areas in southwest Missouri waiting to be discovered. Some of the options include Prairie State Park (Mindenmines), where bison roam freely; Ha Ha Tonka State Park (Camdenton) with its scenic views and 20th-century castle ruins; and Roaring River State Park (Cassville), known for its trout fishing and deep blue spring.

There’s lots of sites to see and activities to do in southwest Missouri. So, encourage your friends and relatives to seek and escape here and contribute to our economy.

Kara Wolfe is the director of the School of Hospitality and Agricultural Leadership at Missouri State University. She can be reached at karawolfe@missouristate.edu.

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