BY SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – State tourism officials constantly re-adjust their marketing strategies to keep up with changing trends among consumers, in this case among people in Arkansas and neighboring states who are planning a vacation or an extended weekend.
The latest adaptation is to concentrate on the state’s main tourism web site, to simplify the process and to capture the attention of vacationers who are looking for specific activities. In other words, in addition to promoting geographic areas within Arkansas as potential destinations, tourism officials will also market activities such as boating, hunting, shopping, attending a musical concert or enjoying an art gallery.
A recurring theme of the marketing efforts will be the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate.
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism promotes the state, in large part with revenue from a 2 percent sales tax collected on tourist related items such as hotel rooms and boat rentals. Last fiscal year, the tourism tax generated about $12.3 million.
Tourism is a pillar of the Arkansas economy. About 100,000 Arkansas residents have jobs related to leisure and travel, and total spending on tourism last year was more than $5.7 billion.
Officials of the Tourism Division made a series of presentations around the state to announce the state’s new strategy. They were joined by executives of the advertising company that contracts with the Division, and representatives of the company that operates its web site.
To be successful, both the tourism and the advertising industry must have up-to-date and accurate data on how effectively their messages are being received by the public.
Therefore they rely heavily on focus groups, customer service surveys and feedback from Internet browsers. Also, the staff at welcome centers on the state’s borders regularly interview travelers to determine how long they will be in Arkansas and whether they intend to stay in a hotel.
During the presentations, tourism officials cite a study by Google, the Internet search engine, which estimates that people spend as many as 40 hours on the Internet planning their vacations. With that in mind, Arkansas will simplify its tourism web site, while upgrading quality, so that Web browsers can more quickly and effectively get information about specific tourist destinations.
In recent years, Arkansas has successfully held its place in tourism rankings, in spite of the economic downturn that reduced travel spending in many tourist destinations. The director of the Tourism Division said he was optimistic about 2014 because the economy is rebounding, so people have money to spend on recreation, and because the Arkansas tourism web site is so effective.
Highway and Bridge Repairs
The state Highway and Transportation Department opened bids for about $110 million of work on 13 separate projects.
The largest single project is to replace a historic bridge across Highway 367 in Newport across the White River. It’s known as the blue bridge and it was built in 1930.
The bid for a new 2,600 foot-long bridge was $32 million. It will take an estimated three years to build; in the meantime the old bridge will remain in service.
Other projects will widen Interstate 540 north in Lowell and expand interchanges on Interstate 40 in Conway.