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Arkansas officials mark National Travel and Tourism Week

Daniel Breen
Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Gina Gemberling speaks alongside Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission Chairman Jim Keet.

Officials with the State of Arkansas and the City of Little Rock are recognizing National Travel and Tourism Week as the state begins to see a rebound in visitors following a pandemic-related slump.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. joined tourism officials at Little Rock’s Robinson Center on Tuesday, saying the city’s diversity of attractions continues to draw visitors and boost the local economy.

“People are choosing to visit, choosing to spend money in Little Rock, and we’ve been able to see it through our sales tax dollars, I can tell you that much,” Scott said. “And when you know that, you have to continue to invest in travel and tourism, understanding that we create a place of quality of life and place.”

According to state tourism officials, visitors to central Arkansas accounted for $78 million in state and local tax revenue in 2020, and was responsible for about 8,500 jobs in the region.

Arkansas Tourism Director Travis Napper said the state is beginning to rebound from a drop in visitors brought on by the pandemic.

“We know what the case was in 2020, but we already know now in 2021 we are drastically recovering in all the right ways, and our 2% tourism tax that funds our efforts reached the highest level we ever did in 2021, and we’re super excited about that. That beat out 2019 numbers, which was our previous record, by over 17%,” Napper said.

Napper said tourism had an economic impact of about $6 billion in the state in 2020, over $1 billion of which came from Pulaski County alone. Tourism made up $501 million in state and local tax revenue in 2020, and contributed to nearly 52,000 jobs across Arkansas, according to Napper.

Gina Gemberling, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, said they’re outlining a “master plan” to help boost the number of travelers coming to the city.

“So much has changed with tourism as a whole. There’s more focus, that we know we have to take a larger role with workforce development, as well as many other areas. So we’re using that tourism master plan to really give us our guide into the future,” Gemberling said.

Gemberling said the city’s tourism master plan should be released by late summer or early fall. She said the city is also launching a new virtual pass where tourists can log their visits to local attractions on their smartphones.

“After 15 stops at 15 of our sites and attractions, which a lot of those it doesn’t take as long as you’d think… after 15 stops and check-ins, they will receive a ‘Big on Little Rock’ T-shirt,” Gemberling said.

Gemberling said the LRCVB and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts are also adopting several highly-trafficked streets through the city’s Adopt-A-Street program.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.