BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – Last year the Arkansas tourism industry grew by about 7 percent, its biggest increase in 15 years.
Almost 26 million people made a trip to an Arkansas destination last year and about two-thirds of them were from out of state. They spent $6.7 billion, which is why tourism is one of the foundations of the Arkansas economy.
Spending by tourists rose by 6.9 percent and tourism tax collections rose 7.04 percent. Arkansas collects a 2 percent sales tax on items related to tourism, such as hotel rooms and boat rentals. Last year, revenue from the tourism tax was $13.79 million, a record. In June of 2014 the tax generated more than $1.5 million for the first time.
Revenue from the tourism tax is spent to market Arkansas as a tourist destination. Research indicates that for every dollar spent on marketing the state’s tourism industry, state and local governments collect about $10 in taxes.
The state Parks and Tourism Department has adapted its marketing strategy over the past several years to take advantage of social media and the Internet. Also, our marketing campaigns emphasize the variety of attractions in Arkansas.
For example, Arkansas is not simply a great place for outdoor activities such as boating and fishing, but it also has fine dining and art galleries. On a vacation to Arkansas you can get away from it all at a campground, and also enjoy upscale retail shopping on the same trip.
Our cultural heritage includes blues and bluegrass music and our historical heritage includes the Civil War and the civil rights movement.
Visitors to Arkansas are a diverse lot with varied interests and backgrounds, from church groups who travel by bus to the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs to the thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts who gather at various rallies around the state.
The tourism department’s marketing efforts focus on neighboring states. The top urban markets were Springfield, Missouri and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, followed by Shreveport, Kansas City, Houston and Memphis.
Arkansas tourism is marketing in magazine and radio advertising, the Internet and a variety of television outlets that include in-house channels in Branson hotels and Internet platforms like Hulu.
When visitors came to Arkansas last year the average expenditure was $259 per trip. Tourism department research indicates that people who visit Arkansas for a vacation are “highly likely” to return.
Market research shows that the typical travel party visiting Arkansas for a leisure trip consisted of 3.3 people – an average of 2.3 adults and one child.
The Internet has become a favorite way for people to plan their trips and book lodging. Recently the Internet has grown in importance because of smart phones and tablets, which allow people to stay connected even while they are traveling.
The leisure and hospitality industry in Arkansas employed more than 62,000 people last year. Their payroll was about $1.2 billion. Over the past 10 years employment in the tourism sector has grown by 23 percent.
Twenty years ago the travel industry employed about 46,000 Arkansas residents and their payroll was about $503 million.