With dedicated entertainment districts popping up across the state, new attractions set to open and more trails being developed to showcase some of the best of The Natural State, tourism in Arkansas continues to look bright.
Tourism continues to be one of the state’s top industries with the latest available report showing more than 32 million visitors came to Arkansas in 2018, adding around $7.6 billion to the state’s economy. The 2018 tourism economic report, released in September 2019, shows tourism brought in $7.37 billion in total travel expenditures, $408 million in state taxes (up 2.7%) and $161 million in local taxes (up 2.9%), according to data released by the Division of Arkansas Tourism. The state travel-generated tax is up 2.7% from the previous year, and travel-generated local taxes are 2.9%, the report showed.
“For those of us who call Arkansas home, the virtues of our state are clear — stunning scenic views, compelling cultural attractions and award-winning culinary opportunities, to name a few,” said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. “This economic impact data reminds us that visitors from across the globe travel to The Natural State to discover top-notch visitor experiences.”
The report showed that the 2% tourism development trust fund increased by 2.7% over 2017; Arkansas’ total travel expenditures were up 4.4%; travel generated payroll is up 3.3%; and travel-generated employment is up 1.2%. Nearly 68,000 Arkansas jobs are directly related to the travel industry.
Arkansas tourism officials do not foresee a drop in the tourism momentum in 2020. Up-and-coming attractions are creating a buzz in tourism circles that should work well for the state.
Two attractions receiving lots of attention are The Momentary in Bentonville and the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, said Leah DiPietro, Arkansas Tourism communications manager.
Opened in February, The Momentary is a contemporary art space and satellite of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Housed in a decommissioned, 63,000 square-foot cheese factory, the art space is located near 8th Street Market on the Razorback Regional Greenway. It is billed as a multidisciplinary space for visual and performing arts, culinary experiences, festivals and artists-in-residence. General admission will be free.
Construction on the new U.S. Marshals Museum should be completed by the end of January, and museum staff were expected to move offices to the new facility Jan. 15. The new building is available for private events, and many weddings, dinners, events and galas have already been booked, said USMM Foundation President Alice Alt. Private tours of the museum are available by appointment.
The museum still has an outstanding $14.1 million needed in its capital campaign, with $8 million of that for the museum’s guest experience design and construction, Alt said. President Patrick Weeks said they are hopeful for a late 2020 grand opening for the museum.
Other attractions set to open in 2020 are Topgolf, located off Interstate 49 in Rogers, Crystal Ridge Distillery in Hot Springs, and the Levon Helm Family Home in Marvell. Originally located in Turkey Scratch, the Helm home has been located to nearby Marvell, where it has been restored. Helm, an award-winning singer/musician best known for his ground-breaking work with The Band, was born and raised in the Arkansas Delta.
Red Wolf Convention Center opened in December on the Arkansas State University campus in Jonesboro with more than 40,000-square-feet of meeting and event space, including a Grand Ballroom that seats 1,500.
Hotel Hale, remodeled from the former Hale Bathhouse, also opened in 2019, offering visitors a unique chance to stay on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park. Built in the early 1890s, this historic boutique hotel at 341 Central Avenue was originally a bathhouse connected to one of the local hot springs in the city.
Entertainment districts are another new addition to tourism in the state. The 2019 Arkansas General Assembly adopted Act 812, which makes it lawful for cities to designate “entertainment districts” where patrons can walk outside a bar or restaurant with an open container of alcohol for public consumption. The act intends to “promote hospitality and tourism by establishing areas of a city or town that highlight restaurant, entertainment, and hospitality options.”
Mountain Home was the first Arkansas city to establish an entertainment district in 2019. An open container zone is permitted between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and midnight daily within the boundaries of the district, which is centered on its downtown area. A number of other cities in the state, including Texarkana and El Dorado, also have created entertainment districts.
“There are tons of opportunities for Arkansans to get out and explore The Natural State in 2020. We’re fortunate to have so many outdoor activities, museums, restaurants and other attractions across the state that can appeal to everyone, no matter your age or interest. For trip planning ideas and other travel inspiration, check out Arkansas.com,” DiPietro said.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Talk Business & Politics annual State of the State magazine.