Tourism leaders say rebound is clear, tout expansion of attractions

Arkansas Secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst has seen the ups and downs of the industry she oversees. She is very pleased with the rebound of tourism in the post-pandemic world. 2021:

  • State parks set record numbers of visits;
  • Tourist spending exceeded US$8 billion, up 33%;
  • more than $1.1 billion in tourism taxes; and
  • Hospitality records 64,144 jobs, up 23%

“I’m really not surprised at all. In 2020, our collections are down. That’s to be expected. We’re doing better than most of the surrounding states. So we know we’re heading into the next year of 2021. , we’re probably coming back strong because people flock to Arkansas. I’ve said before that now is the perfect time to be a state of nature. We’re really seeing that in 2021,” she said.

Hirst, who appeared in this week’s Talk Business & Politics, said robust marketing helped a rebound in 2021, and she expects to do better in 2022 and 2023.

“I think we made really good decisions in terms of advertising and marketing. We held back and we didn’t invite people from other states into Arkansas early in the pandemic. We created a new message inviting people to enjoy what Arkansas has to offer Natural beauty. So it resonated with people. During that time, our nickname really worked: The state of nature,” she said.

“Now, we’ve moved. With the economy in trouble, our move to Arkansas provides tremendous value. That’s where we’re focusing right now. Out-of-state people are drawn to the state of nature. And of course, people who live in Arkansas are encouraged to travel within the state,” Hurst added.

New attractions are always important to diversify Arkansas’ tourism offerings. For in-state and out-of-state travelers, both programs will be a huge boost to the state, Hurst said. One is the Cold War Museum in Blytheville, her department has just invested heavily.

“This is a great project. Even when I was invited there four years ago to take a look, I was convinced that this has the potential to be a really great museum, a great interactive and educational opportunities, she said.

Another project coming back online in 2023 is the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, formerly the Arkansas Arts Center.

“Arkansas is now on the art lover’s map thanks to Crystal Bridges. But with the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts now serving as an anchor for the Central Arkansas region, we will now be able to market to art lovers — not only domestically, but also Internationally — come to Arkansas and take in these two outstanding museums. I agree with you 100% that this could be transformative in terms of our tourism industry,” she said.

In another note of hospitality, nominations for the Arkansas Foodie Hall of Fame are open. Hurst said more than 1,000 nominations have been received.

You can watch Hearst’s full interview in the video below.

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