Newly minted tourism director for the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce, Justin O'Neal, has a pitch he uses whenever he's trying to attract attention to the town.
"My pitch is that we have everything from a World War II submarine to a Renaissance Castle," O'Neal said. "That's the attention-grabber."
I've stolen that line on multiple occasions now to outline just how weird and wonderful this town can be — usually toward whichever out-of-town friends I want to come visit me. I also like to trot it out whenever I'm embroiled in debate on finding things to do in Muskogee, which is a sentiment O'Neal shares.
"If you’re bored one day in Muskogee, that’s your own fault, because there’s hundreds and hundreds of events that go on throughout the year that doesn’t even include any of the attractions," O'Neal said.
Still, it also points to how important tourism has become to Muskogee, says O'Neal, especially given our hotel/motel lodging tax.
"It’s economic development in a very natural form. You’re putting an investment forward and then seeing a return on those investments," O'Neal said. "Because so many people are coming to Muskogee, that hotel and lodging tax becomes a very large source of funding."
O'Neal said the Chamber hopes to take those collected taxes and put them to good use.
"In the last fiscal year, it was $977,000. That money kind of makes it a hot interest in the public eye," O'Neal said. "The public wants to see that money used to grow, and be invested properly and that’s what we aim to do."
O'Neal said it was "exciting" to step up to the challenge as tourism director for the Chamber.
"I’m really excited to work with the new Muskogee Redevelopment Tourism Board and get a lot of things done this year as well as create a long-range plan of action for tourism in Muskogee," he said.
As someone with a vested interest in seeing Muskogee grow, if only so I can brag about the town to my friends, I certainly hope O'Neal succeeds.