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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Cecile Bledsoe

LITTLE ROCK -- Tourism in Arkansas grew at a healthy rate last year, whether it's measured in total spending or how many people visited the state or how many jobs are supported by the travel industry.

An official report was released detailing the role of tourism on the state economy, and the secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism called it a "banner year of growth for Arkansas's tourism industry."

Almost 68,000 Arkansas residents work in jobs directly within the travel industry, she said. More than 32 million visitors spent money traveling through Arkansas. Spending on travel grew by 4.4% over the previous year, bringing the total amount of travel expenditures in Arkansas to almost $7.4 billion for 2018.

Arkansas tourism officials rely heavily on data and modern technology to market the state. Nature and outdoor activities are still a staple of our marketing strategy, but for the past several years our tourism officials also have emphasized the availability of cultural experiences, such as fine restaurants, art galleries, music venues and historical sites.

A major source of revenue for marketing campaigns is the state's tourism tax on travel-related lodging, such as hotel rooms, camp grounds and boat rentals. It generated more than $16 million in 2018.

Marketing campaigns generally focus on major centers of population in nearby states, such as Dallas, Springfield, Chicago, Memphis, Kansas City and Tulsa.

Our presence on the Internet is crucial, so that when potential visitors see a location of interest when they are "surfing the Net," it is easy for them to make reservations and schedule activities online. Also, tourism officials try to make it simple to request a brochure.

Niche marketing focuses on motorcycle enthusiasts, Civil War buffs, birdwatchers, people interested in the history of the civil rights movement, hunters and fishermen, mountain bikers, hikers and stargazers.

A traditional staple of marketing is to educate people about the possibility of unearthing a diamond at the Crater of Diamonds State Park.

The Buffalo National River recently was designated as an international dark sky park, which means people can see the stars more clearly because of the absence of streetlights, electric signs and other types of urban lighting.

Feedback is critical, in order to determine how effectively our marketing efforts are working. Keeping up with new technologies is also important. This year podcast audio advertising will be tested, as will a campaign in Colorado aimed at mountain bikers.

It's projected that 46% of advertising dollars will be spent on digital media and 54% on traditional media, like newspaper inserts, magazines and television.

In related news, the governor issued an executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee. It will be made up of the secretaries of the Department of Energy and Environment; Agriculture; Parks, Heritage and Tourism; and Health.

The executive order cites the ongoing need for state officials to cooperate with local property and business owners, to manage the watershed to maintain "the highest level of water quality."

The governor also announced that $2 million was available for grants for water quality and conservation projects in the Buffalo River watershed. The state will provide $1 million and the other $1 million will be from the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation.

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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Editorial on 10/02/2019

Print Headline: Tourism in state grew last year

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