Earlier this week, I joined nearly 400 tourism leaders at the 43rd Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism. It was an opportunity to highlight the outstanding accomplishments of those in Arkansas’s tourism industry and to kick off the travel season.
It’s been another record year for Arkansas. There are more visitors spending more money in our state than ever before. In 2016, we hosted more than 29 million visitors who spent almost $7.7 billion in total travel expenditures. Visitor-spending in 2016 was 5% more than it was in 2015, and this continues the growth we have seen in our tourism industry over the past few years. Since 2012, total travel expenditures in Arkansas have increased by more than 32%.
Once again, this goes to show just how important tourism is to our state’s economic development. A strong tourism industry provides support for our state’s growing economy, and a strong state economy creates opportunity for our tourism industry to grow. Each one spurs the other, and ultimately, Arkansans reap the benefits.
This past year, I have had the opportunity to see tourism develop in almost every region of the state. In the fall, I visited South Arkansas to celebrate the dedication of the El Dorado Arts & Entertainment District—an $80 million project, which will transform six city blocks into a thriving community of great food, art and El Dorado charm.
I also recently visited the Delta for the grand opening of Big River Crossing—the longest pedestrian bridge in the United States. At nearly a mile in length, Big River Crossing connects West Memphis to Memphis, providing a state-of-the-art track for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
Mountain biking and cycling is a growing market niche in the state, attracting travelers and enhancing the quality of life of our residents. That’s why I also attended the International Mountain Biking Association World Summit in Bentonville, which brought over 500 visitors from 40 states and 11 countries to Northwest Arkansas.
From corner to corner, the Natural State is brimming with beauty, hospitality, history and culture. Whether you travel down the road or across the state, Arkansas has something for everyone.
Editor’s note: Guest commentary from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, as provided by the Governor’s office.