The 2017 Governor’s Conference on Tourism wrapped up Tuesday (March 14) with its Henry Award winners coming from a broad swath of the state, including Eureka Springs, Fort Smith, Texarkana and West Memphis. Gov. Asa Hutchinson also praised the tourism sector as a “rising” star in Arkansas’ economy.
More than 1,000 operators in the tourism industry, tourism organization officials and staffers with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism gathered Sunday-Tuesday in Little Rock for the 43rd annual tourism conference. The 2018 conference is set to be held in West Memphis.
Speaking Tuesday at the closing luncheon, Gov. Hutchinson said tourism and business travelers in 2016 set new records in terms of the number of visitors and how much money they spent in the state. He praised those in the audience for helping support the industry and convincing people to come to Arkansas and spend “more money than ever before.”
“You are the number two industry in the state and you are rising, and I love that,” Hutchinson said.
Arkansas’ agri sector is still the tops in the state in terms of economic impact.
The governor also worked to tie his tax-reduction policies into a tourism industry benefit. In the past two legislative sessions, Gov. Hutchinson successfully pushed to enact around $150 million in tax cuts. The most recent was a $50 million tax cut targeted toward low-income households. The governor told the tourism crowd that the $50 million in tax cuts could result in more money spent at state tourism facilities.
Gov. Hutchinson also noted some of the the tourism development projects he has visited in recent months. He talked about the mountain biking event in Bentonvolle, the Big River Crossing bridge that connects West Memphis to Memphis, and the $80 million effort in downtown El Dorado to turn six city blocks into an arts and entertainment district.
“Is this not great what’s happening here in this state?” the governor asked.
The governor also told the crowd he is focused on boosting the number of international tourists to the state. He said all of Arkansas’ regions and tourism facilities are often considered unique to people around the world, and the state “markets so well internationally.”
Following Gov. Hutchinson’s remarks, Kane Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, announced the following Henry Award winners.
• Tourism Person of the Year: Jim Rice, Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, Little Rock
• Media Support Award: Arkansas Living, Little Rock
• Bootstrap Award: Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Eureka Springs
• Arkansas Heritage Award: Ozark Highlands Radio, Mountain View
• Grand Old Classic Special Event Award: Arkansas Derby, Hot Springs
• Outstanding Volunteer Service Award: Ross Cowling, Texarkana
• Community Tourism Development Award: The Unexpected, Fort Smith
• The Natural State Award: West Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, West Memphis
The Henry Awards have been a feature of the annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism since their debut in 1981. The awards are named for Henri de Tonti, founder of Arkansas Post in 1686, and who is often hailed as the first “Arkansas Traveler.”