TOPEKA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett said Monday that modest new investments by state government could make Kansas less of a tourism afterthought.

“Every day, states are competing aggressively for these jobs and dollars,” he said. “Recently, Kansas has not been in the game.”

He said surveys ranked Kansas 46th as a place to visit, 43rd for entertainment, recreation and nightlife, 41st in travel-oriented tax revenue and 39th as a destination for a summer trip.

Barnett, a Topeka physician and former state senator in a large Republican field of candidates seeking the party’s 2018 nomination, said the state must improve financing of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. In fiscal year 2017, he said, Kansas spent less on the agency than it did five years ago.

“Our state’s tourism budget is one-third the national average. We are significantly behind what neighboring states like Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma spend,” Barnett said.

He said Kansas could develop international tourism by marketing heritage travel options to people in Germany and Britain with relatives who immigrated to Kansas. The state’s open spaces can be intriguing to residents of Japan and other Asian countries, he said.

“We should expand and further market fishing and hunting opportunities that bring sportsmen and women to Kansas,” he said.

Kansas’ strategy needs to better link Kansas with neighboring states, Barnett said. An example would be to extend the Flint Hills Nature Trail to the Katy Trail that winds across Missouri. He said the state should provide funding for unique sites such as Kansas’ version of the Badlands near Scott City in western Kansas.

Elevation of Kansas as a tourism destination should start with an inventory of Kansas attractions and resources currently allocated to each, he said. Regional plans for growth of tourism, including assistance needed to produce results, would follow, he said.