BY MELANIE BUCK –
A Lunch and Learn event was held at the Ouachita Center in recognition of National Travel and Tourism Week on Wednesday, May 4th. The event was co-sponsored by the Mena/Polk County Chamber of Commerce, ARCO, Rich Mountain Community College Foundation, Mena Advertising & Promotion Commission, Mena Depot Commission, and the Talimena National Scenic Byway and was well attended by chamber members and local business leaders.
ARCO Chair John Vacca presented the organization’s new logo, tagline and user-friendly website targeting tourism. He asked for all those in attendance to visit the site, VisitOuachitas.com, and provide feedback, corrections, etc. He shared that the site was already organically performing well and they expect to be a great generator to the various communities and businesses listed and linked.
Arkansas State Parks Region V Supervisor, Shea Lewis, spoke at the event about the importance of tourism in Arkansas. Lewis said the state hosted 28 million visitors and brought in $7.2 billion in tourism expenditures in 2015. There are a number of positive attributes that tourism brings to our state. Tourism-related jobs, cultural preservation, and revenue are just a few. Tourism is vital to Arkansas’s economy, and it is projected to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the next decade. The economic impact of travel and tourism on the state’s economy showed an 8.69% increase in travel expenditures in 2015. Arkansas’s travel and tourism industry travel generated payroll has grown from $240 million in 1979 to $1.3 billion in 2015, an increase of 447.6% over the last 36 years. Polk County alone received an estimated 99,000 visitors in 2015, generating $537,560 in local tax dollars and $25.2 million in total travel expenditures.
A reception was also held for National Travel and Tourism Week at Queen Wilhelmina Lodge on Thursday, May 5th, where Congressman Bruce Westerman spoke of the importance of the tourism industry to the state.