By Senator Larry Teague
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas tourism industry grew modestly last year, increasing by 1.4 percent and bringing tourism’s portion of the state economy to $5.77 billion.
More than 58,000 worked in travel-related jobs and their total payroll amounted to more than $1.1 billion.
Travelers paid more than $301 million in state taxes and $110 million in local taxes. The state tax revenue includes more than $12 million from the 2 percent tourism tax, which began in 1989 and is spent to market Arkansas as a tourist destination. It is levied on tourist-related spending, such as hotel rooms, boat rentals and fishing gear. Last year the tourism tax generated more than $12 million.
Spending by business travelers went down from $600 million to $450 million, but that was offset by a $200 million increase in spending by leisure travelers.
The state Parks and Tourism Department uses all types of advertising – television, radio, magazines, newspaper inserts, social media and the Internet. Market research indicates that more people than ever rely on the Internet to explore tourism destinations and to make reservations and book tickets. They use social media like Facebook and Twitter, and they do research with a smart phone.
Video spots promoting Arkansas as a tourism destination have traditionally appeared on network television and cable TV. We now show them on Internet TV channels such as Hulu.
A two-and-a-half minute spot about Arkansas runs on the Branson Visitor Channel and is available in about 21,000 hotel rooms, camp sites and businesses in the Branson area.
Over an eight-month period last year the Parks and Tourism web site, Arkansas.com, received 4.3 million “visits” from Internet browsers.
The Department surveyed 34,000 of the people who visited its web site and learned that 71 percent had visited Arkansas in the previous 12 months. The average length of their stay in Arkansas was 3.8 nights and on average they spent $496. Their average family income was about $60,000.
Market research shows that while on an overnight leisure trip in Arkansas travelers will shop, visit a park and go out to eat. Often they eat at a restaurant that offers fine dining. They visit landmarks such as historic sites, art galleries and museums. They enjoy outdoors activities like boating, swimming, camping, fishing, bird watching and hiking. For entertainment they go to clubs, festivals and fairs, musical performances and theme parks.
The primary goal of advertising campaigns is to reach adults between the ages of 25 and 49, with a focus on women and families with children. Besides aiming for Arkansas audiences, our marketing campaigns also target nearby states – Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kansas.
We also advertise in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky.
Texas is the leader in the number of tourists from nearby states, followed by Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Alabama and Kansas.
Niche marketing targets history buffs, bird watchers, motorcycle riders, golfers, senior citizens and retirees, outdoor enthusiasts and people who speak Spanish.
Tourism has always been a large component of the Arkansas economy, and it has consistently kept up with growth in other economic sectors. For example, since 1977 the total wages and salaries earned by Arkansans in the travel and tourism industry has grown by 433 percent, from $204 million to $1.1 billion.