Tourism leaders say research, targeting key to industry surge

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,214 views 

Arkansas’ tourism industry has been on a roll for a decade. Following a dip — experienced in nearly every state during the Great Recession — the Natural State rebounded quickly and dramatically.

In 2010, Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax brought in $11.492 million annually. By 2018, those tax collections rose by more than 46% to $16.428 million. And 2019 is already trending higher than 2018, up 4.1% year-over-year.

Tourism officials say a key to the growth has been research and data. Arkansas has honed its ability to identify, target and reach defined niche audiences.

“Our research tells us where to market, and we do a good job of marketing in those areas. We market in areas where we can measure what we’re doing, and we’ve refined that over the years,” said Jim Shamburger, chairman of the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. “I think we just continue to do a great job with the commission’s guidance and our marketing firm [CJRW] that we’ve hired to market the state of Arkansas.”

Shamburger, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics with newly named Secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst, said the state has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts from lakes and rivers, camping, fishing, mountain biking, road cycling, motorcycle riding, golf and more.

“People love the outdoors that we have here, and we do a lot of adventure travel, but we market in all these little niche markets that people love to do,” Shamburger said.

Hurst, who headed the former Department of Arkansas Heritage prior to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s government reorganization, now leads the combination agency that incorporates parks and tourism. She said heritage tourism and cultural amenities are also a huge draw.

“We have a great product here in Arkansas, we’ve got natural beauty, we’ve got adventure travel, we’ve got great history and heritage and all of that is so attractive to travelers,” she said.

“One thing we’re really focusing on is the road trip and really understanding what drives people to just jump in the car and take a road trip if you’re an Arkansan or fly into Little Rock, for example, or into XNA and do road trips throughout the state,” Hurst added.

She also notes that the state’s tourism base is growing from a “foodie” perspective as Arkansas cuisine is becoming an increasingly important target to draw visitors in.

“We’re growing into a great foodie state. I mean, people love to travel and experience authentic food in whatever place they are and as Jim mentioned we’ve got great adventure travel. So we’re really focusing on that, growing that road trip business,” Hurst said.

You can watch their entire conversation in the video below.