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Arkansas tourism officials welcome rebound of visitors

Cyclists ride one of the Monument Trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Little Rock.
Jared Sorrells
Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau
Cyclists ride one of the Monument Trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Little Rock.

Arkansas’ tourism industry is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new study.

The 2021 Arkansas Tourism Economic Impact Report shows tourism jobs in the state rose to 95% of pre-pandemic levels last year. Jobs in the tourism industry grew by nearly 24% compared to 2020, with over 64,000 more Arkansans employed.

Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, says the state’s economy is also seeing a rebound thanks to the increase in visitors.

“We exceeded $20 million in 2% tourism tax collections, which is a record-setting number, but we saw a return to our pre-pandemic levels of economic impact,” Hurst said, adding that visitors spent about $8 billion in the state during fiscal year 2021.

“What’s really significant about that number is that that doesn't include a robust return of business travel and group travel, so we anticipate that in 2022 and we see more business and group travel, we’ll experience continued growth,” Hurst said.

According to the report, tourism-related industries generated just over $1 billion in tax collections in fiscal year 2021. Over 9 million people visited state parks in Arkansas last year, with national parks experiencing visitor growth of 23%.

Hurst cited the state’s COVID-19 lockdown policies as helpful for mitigating the negative effects of the pandemic on the state’s travel and tourism industry.

“We made some strategic decisions during 2020 that positioned us well going forward into 2021. I think that was very helpful and impactful and it was all about what we have to offer travelers which is a great outdoor experience,” Hurst said.

Hurst says the first few months of the current fiscal year have shown continued growth of about 10% in certain sectors compared to the 2021 report.

The report shows over 41 million visitors spent over $8 billion in Arkansas in the past fiscal year. State tax collections due to tourism rose by over 27% compared to 2020, while local tax collections also increased by over 21%.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.