BY MELANIE BUCK –
Tourism is recognized as one the major economic engines in the state of Arkansas, in the billions to be exact. Officials recognize consumers are hyper-connected to their screens, being marketed to for various destinations and despite that fact, Arkansas’ popularity continues to soar, proving that all of the resources being allocated for online marketing are paying off. Last year, 28 million visitors spent $7.2 billion on travel and tourism in Arkansas, an 8.7 percent increase over the previous year. That means $374 million was collected in state taxes and $137 million in local taxes throughout the state.
Not only has tourism garnered more tax collected, it has also produced a large amount of income for many citizens across the state. In 2015, $1.3 billion was paid to employees through payroll, a 447.6% percent increase over 1979’s $240 million in tourism payroll.
Those numbers aren’t lost in Polk County either. In 2015, total tourism expenditures were $25.2 million. $537,560 was collected in local taxes from tourism in 2015 with almost 100,000 visitors to the area. More than 250 jobs exist in Polk County’s tourism industry with more than $4.5 million paid out in payroll.
In Senator Larry Teague’s recent op-ed, he stated, “The narrative presents Arkansas as a place where they can enjoy experiences of sight and sound and flavor, mixed in with “once in a lifetime” experiences. That experience may be hang-gliding or sitting under a waterfall. It could be soaking up culture at an art museum or a music venue.” And indeed, Arkansas, and Polk County, specifically, has all of that to offer and more.
Studies conducted by the state conclude that marketing has had the largest impact on bringing tourism dollars to the area. “In order to maximize the effectiveness of the various elements of marketing Arkansas as a tourist destination, creativity comes into play. That’s why our marketing strategy tells a story that develops across all the screens and channels that consumers watch. Tourism relies on advertising, which relies on market research,” said Teague.
Polk County has an asset in ARCO (Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas), which uses its resources to promote and market a tri-county area, Polk, Montgomery, and Scott Counties. The goal of the Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas is to highlight the jewels of the region as a draw to tourists, families, retirees, and entrepreneurs. Using the unique Ouachita Mountains as the main draw, ARCO will also use the area’s outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, crystal digging, water sports, etc., to attract specialized groups and the slower-paced, safe-net lifestyle for families and retirees.
ARCO recently launched a new website. The new site’s mission, www.VisitOuachitas.com, is promoting tourism and the concept of “one more day,” to encourage visitors to our area to stay one more day. Gar Eisele of ARCO, shared during a recent presentation that if each visitor added just one more day to their time in the ARCO region, tourism revenue would increase by 31%, totaling $16.5 million more that would impact the region.
The Mena Advertising and Promotion Commission is also in place to encourage tourism to the area. Longtime commissioner, Terri Neugent, reported that their website, www.VisitMena.com, has had an average of 3,100 – 3,900 visits per month in the last three months. June and July both had more than 5,500 views each month, both high travel months for tourists. The commission utilizes social media to promote the website and mail brochures to prospective visitors. More than 10,000 brochures have been mailed promoting Mena and the surrounding area since June 2016. Posts are made on Facebook that directly link to the A&P’s website, putting the prospective visitor right into the heart of all the area has to offer.