State officials are preparing for National Travel and Tourism Week, scheduled for May 2-8.
With the approach of summer, these state leaders are hoping for a return to some semblance of normalcy in the tourism industry. Most of all, they look to see increased numbers traveling to Arkansas and to see individuals partaking in the Natural State’s amenities.
“Despite the hardships of the past year, Arkansas is ready and eager to welcome back visitors and help drive the state’s recovery efforts,” Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst said in a statement. “National Travel and Tourism Week is an opportunity to remind visitors and Arkansans alike of the incredible contributions of the travel industry, not just to our local economy and workforce, but to our community’s identity and culture.”
During the early days of the pandemic, officials limited visits to state parks, campgrounds and other sites, allowing only day use of parks in April 2020. Parks began slowly reopening in May 2020, with lodges and cabins reopening on May 15 and campgrounds opening for tent camping and bathhouse use on June 1.
“The pandemic brought huge change to the inner workings of the tourism industry. Our Arkansas Tourism staff and direct partners adapted quickly, shifting to remote work and tweaking advertising to accommodate a “Safe Travel” message. Trade shows and travel-related conferences were canceled or moved to virtual, so business as usual came to a halt. Nevertheless, our team managed to deploy an effective message that encouraged visitors and residents to enjoy our abundant outdoor resources safely,” Hurst told Arkansas Money & Politics in its January 2021 issue.
“Our travel centers closed briefly, but opened safely to visitors in May, and our team of professionals continued to promote Arkansas as an attractive and safe destination.”
Since that time, tourism has been top of mind in Arkansas. In recent weeks, there have been multiple tourism-related announcements throughout the state. On Tuesday, April 27, state and local leaders kicked off the capital fundraising campaign for a new Sultana Disaster Museum, which is expected to be a tourism draw for the Arkansas-Mississippi-Tennessee tristate area. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort officially opened the doors of its new hotel in Hot Springs on Wednesday, April 21. The new visitors center at Petit Jean State Park, dubbed the Dr. T.W. Hardison Visitor Center, was dedicated on Tuesday, April 20.
Despite the closure and the impact of COVID-19, which ravaged industries across the world, Arkansas’ tourism industry only suffered a 25 percent drop, according to Hurst. The state’s model, she said, had planned for a decline of as much as 60 percent.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, the pandemic resulted in $500 billion in lost travel spending, causing a collective loss of $64 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. The total travel spending in 2020 dropped to $680.3 billion from $1.172 trillion in 2019.
“The travel industry in Arkansas and across the globe has been hit hard over the past year. The good news is we’re now able to celebrate recovery, and travelers are out and about exploring The Natural State. We’re more than ready to welcome them back with open arms,” Arkansas Tourism director Travis Napper said.
In the January interview, Hurst said that she expected to see Arkansas’ outdoor opportunities to see more and more visitors. “I predict we’ll continue to see robust use of our amazing natural resources. We’re seeing increased visitation from our abutting states, especially Texas. With the lingering effects of COVID-19, we’ll continue to see visitors take advantage of our outdoor opportunities like incredible new biking and hiking trails, world-class fly fishing and backcountry aviation,” she said.
Created by U.S. Congress in 1983, National Travel and Tourism Week is held the first full week of May every year.