Arkansas is home to many who work tirelessly on its behalf to attract visitors, and economy-boosting tourism dollars, to the state. Many stakeholders — official and otherwise — help expand the Arkansas brand, attract newcomers and ensure that the state’s reputation for hospitality sticks. Here, we recognize four of the state’s more high-profile travel ambassadors.
President and CEO, Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau
For Arkansas, Little Rock is “downtown.” And Gretchen Hall believes it all starts downtown. “When downtown is thriving, there is a ripple effect,” she says.
In 2018, more than 6.4 million visitors took in the sites in Pulaski County, anchored by downtown revitalization on both sides of the Arkansas River including the addition of an entertainment district in the River Market and the development of the East Village. In 2018, Pulaski County accounted for 22 percent of the state’s tourists, according to state figures, and travel spending accounted for roughly $1.95 billion.
For Hall, Little Rock as a travel destination, whether for business or pleasure, is an easy sell. “We are way ahead of a lot of other destinations,” she says.
Cabinet Secretary, Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
Tourism has always been a big deal in Arkansas. Whether through outdoor recreation such as hunting and fishing, the “old guard” tourism towns of Hot Springs and Eureka Springs or even the blooming cultural mecca of Northwest Arkansas, the state has much to offer.
And Stacy Hurst is responsible for making sure that people know it’s open for business when it comes to tourism. It represents the state’s second-largest economic driver with an annual impact of $7.3 billion, after all. Hurst oversees a reorganized department that now includes Arkansas State Parks and employs thousands. For her, promoting Arkansas is a team effort.
“There are many people working in the industry, all pulling in the same direction to package and promote Arkansas as an attractive destination,” she says. “The future is bright.”
President and CEO, Visit Bentonville
Kalene Griffith isn’t a native Arkie (we forgive her), but now Arkansas is home for the Kansas girl, who arrived in Bentonville 15 years ago to help promote the state’s emerging golden child in the northwest. Bentonville indeed has emerged over the past decade and a half into one of the nation’s “it” towns in one of the nation’s “it” regions.
Griffith admits that her expectations were blown away when she first visited. But like many others, Griffith knew right away that Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas had just scratched the surface in realizing the region’s potential.
“People wanted to see something transformative,” she says. “You felt an energy from people looking to the future.”
CEO, Visit Hot Springs
As chief promoter of all things Spa City, Steve Arrison’s job seemingly is made easy by the many built-in attractions from national parks to thoroughbred racetracks and casinos.
These days, he has even more to promote. Taking a cue from Northwest Arkansas’ rise to the top of the U.S. mountain biking scene, Hot Springs has become one of the state’s top trail destinations. Its Northwoods system just off downtown represents one of several highly regarded trails in and around the city, helping fuel an outdoor recreation industry that generates $9.7 billion annually in Arkansas.
“Those numbers will only grow in the future and the Northwoods Trail System will position Hot Springs perfectly to capitalize on this economic powerhouse,” he says.