THACKERVILLE, Okla. (AP) -- A new welcome center at Oklahoma's busiest southern entrance is a big draw, but a new center also is needed at the state's top northern entrance, state tourism director Jane Jayroe said.
The grand opening for the new welcome center on Interstate 35 at the Texas line isn't until next week, but Jayroe said visitation there has increased 120 percent over the old, smaller one.
"When we have a new welcome center, the average increase in attendance is 25 percent," Jayroe said.
She said the state now needs a new visitor center where I-35 enters Oklahoma from Kansas.
"We really need one at Blackwell," she said. "Like so many other issues, it's a matter of funding."
The new Thackerville center opened Oct. 1 and features reproductions of Western art featured in the state. The center directs tourists to places in Oklahoma where they can see the original art, Jayroe said.
Jayroe said more than 250,000 people stop in Thackerville every year, and that she expects that number to increase substantially now that the new center is open.
With the completion of the center, nine of Oklahoma's 12 welcome centers have been rebuilt, she said.
She said about 1.3 million people stopped at the state's centers in the fiscal year that ended in July.
Clean, attractive tourist centers are important for Oklahoma's tourist trade, Jayroe said.
"Our research indicates that if we talk to three people, one of the three will extend their stay or come back," Jayroe said. "We influence the tourist traffic."
While most visitors stop to use rest rooms, Jayroe said the welcome center gives tourist officials a chance to present brochures and to talk to them.
"That really does influence travel habits," Jayroe said.