Robert and Phyllis Johnson couldn’t find their group Saturday at Old Cowtown.
“We were supposed to meet here at noon and be back on the bus, but we don’t know where everyone else is,” Phyllis Johnson said.
The rest of the group on a motorcoach tour from Louisiana had gotten together and decided they didn’t want to leave.
“We wanted to stay longer,” said Frances Ross. “This is such an interesting place.”
The group riding the Diamond Tours bus home from Colorado Springs wanted to stay to watch the Dixie Lee Saloon Girls in the saloon and the Cowtown Cowboys gunfight during this weekend’s Celebrate America event at the 1870s-era living-history museum.
The white tour bus sitting in the parking lot at Old Cowtown is a symbol of how the Wichita attraction, which has struggled in recent years, is trying to draw visitors.
Motorcoach tours are to middle America what cruise ships are to beach resorts, bringing large groups of tourists to single destinations.
A one-day stop from a tour group boosts a local economy by $2,536 to $4,563, according to a study by George Washington University for the American Bus Association. A group staying two nights spends up to $16,000.
“This is the perfect place en route to places like the Dakotas,” said Cassie Fahey, who coordinates motorcoach tours at Cowtown.
Fahey said Old Cowtown had seen a growth in bus visits, especially from the Florida-based Diamond Tours the past several years. Even with the downturn in the economy, the bus tour business at Old Cowtown appears to be stable so far.
“At first, they wanted a place to stop and eat lunch on Sundays,” Fahey said. “Well, we didn’t open until noon on Sundays, so we decided to open earlier to accommodate the buses.”
Saturday, members of the tour lined up to get their picture taken with Abraham Lincoln re-enactor Tom Leahy, and clapped and stomped along with the Dixie Lee Saloon Girls’ songs.
“This really is like being in an Old West town,” Ross said.
The growth in bus tours and rentals of the welcome center have helped bring revenue to the museum, special-events coordinator Rick Rekoske said.
“We have a wedding here tonight,” he said Saturday.
Bookings for receptions and other events rose after the museum moved the Diamond W Wranglers and their chuckwagon supper from the visitors center into the park. That opened the visitors center to receptions and events.
Special events, such as Celebrate America, and a Women of the West event scheduled for August also help attract visitors to the park.
Celebrate America, the museum’s Independence Day event, had been an annual event until last year, when it stopped.
But it returned this year with new features, including a fishing derby and traditional favorites like the anvil shoot.
“The anvil shoot provides a big explosion, and people love that,” Rekoske said.