More than 6.4 million people visited Pulaski County according to a new report by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. While this number is comparable to how many tourists came to the county last year, it does continue an increasing trend in annual visitors over the past ten years, according to the report.
According to Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pulaski County visitors make up a considerable percentage of total visitors to Arkansas.
"We represent about 22 percent of the state’s total travel visitation. So the total number of people that come into our state, Pulaski County represents 22 percent of that total. And that has been very consistent over the last few years," Hall said.
Visitors generated $1.95 billion dollars last year in spending, making up 25 percent of the state’s total travel expenditures. Hall says that includes everything a person spends on while visiting.
"Total travel spending means, how much did I spend on the flight or the transportation to get to the destination? How much did I spend on my lodging, my food, my restaurants, my entertainment?" Hall said.
$74.2 million of that visitor spending was in state tax revenue, while $33.3 million was in local tax revenue. The report also says visitor spending also created 13,786 jobs in the travel industry.
The report also cites the success of the Robinson Center, which in 2018 had its second full year of operation since reopening in November of 2016. Disney’s The Lion King had a total of 23 performances, making it the longest running Broadway production in Little Rock. While it may be tough to surpass that, Hall says she is already seeing the Robinson Center being put to good use this year.
"We’re continuing to see great utilization of the facility. Good numbers for our symphony, our Broadway theater series and then all of the ancillary concerts and events," Hall said. "Just the variety of shows that we’re able to book now that that facility has been renovated has been really really great for the quality of life locally, and the attractions to attract additional visitors."
Hall says the Bureau releases the annual report for multiple reasons.
"We try to produce this report again to raise the awareness of the value of tourism locally, and all of that economic generation locally for us and then we also want to make sure the people are aware of all of the programming we offer," Hall said.
Looking ahead, Hall believes some future Little Rock projects will help bring in even more tourists to the area, some of which are listed in the report.
"I think a couple of the highlights there, some of them are already in process, which is great. Like the Arkansas Arts Center expansion and renovation, it’s going to be under construction for a couple of years, but when it reopens, that’s going to give us a really great boost from a leisure standpoint in an attraction to draw some more people in our area," Hall said.
Hall also mentioned infrastructure projects as another boon to the future tourism industry.
"The I-30 project is going to be a big one. Again, creating an ease and convenience to get into and around your destination is very important," Hall said.
The full report can be found here.