Tourism partners from across the state will be in Hot Springs Feb. 24-26 for the 45th Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The annual gathering of Arkansas’ tourism industry offers sessions on topics such as Google’s latest trends, marketing to a diverse audience and 21st century visitor engagement.
New to the conference this year is the inaugural ArkTank startup pitch competition. The winner will walk away with a cash prize of $5,000 and guaranteed mentorship from Arkansas Tourism and Innovate Arkansas, which helps technology entrepreneurs turn startup companies into viable commercial enterprises.
Arkansas Tourism partnered with Innovate Arkansas for the startup competition that asked entrepreneurs to pitch ideas of viable business endeavors that relate to tourism. There were 21 entries in the competition, said Joy Barlogie, tourism development manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
“We are looking for the ideas and energy that entrepreneurs bring to everything they do. To apply those ideas for continued tourism business growth in our state is a great opportunity,” Arkansas Tourism Director Jim Dailey said when the contest was announced. “Ark Tank will be an exciting addition to our annual conference, and we can’t wait to see the ideas that will be presented.”
Contest committee members called each of the 21 applicants to discuss their ideas and determine if they would be fiscally viable, Barlogie said. Those applicants were narrowed to a list of nine. Those nine were then interviewed through video calls so committee members could see if the applicants would be able to sell their products, she said.
The list was eventually narrowed to four, who will pitch their ideas in a 12-minute presentation Tuesday (Feb. 26) at the Governor’s Conference. Those pitches will include a seven minute presentation and five minutes for questions and answers.
“We had some really great candidates. It was really hard to narrow it to four,” Barlogie said. “We had everything from fishing pole holders for the garage to promote fishing throughout Arkansas to a concierge service for things to do, hotels and attractions throughout the state.”
The competition is expected to become an annual event, Barlogie said.
“We had a great response. We definitely expect to do it again next year,” she said. “The 2020 conference will be in Fort Smith and the 2021 in Fayetteville. Both of these are areas attracting lots of entrepreneurs. We don’t see why the Governor’s Conference can’t be in on that as well.”
Also new at this year’s conference is a unique collaborative networking space called “Share Space,” located in Room 206 of the convention center. Attendees have the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with conference speakers and other industry professionals to collaborate, brainstorm and learn.
The conference will culminate with the presentation of the 2019 Henry Awards and an address by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism was first held in 1975 at Dogpatch, U.S.A.