LITTLE ROCK - Tourism continues to be an important part of the Arkansas economy, and tourism officials continue to adapt their marketing strategies to meet the changes and challenges of promoting the state in national markets.
In the past, Arkansas tourism relied heavily on promoting the availability of outdoor activities such as boating, hunting and fishing.
In order to make Arkansas more appealing to women and families, in recent years the state's marketing campaigns have expanded and now include opportunities to shop, to enjoy fine dining and to experience cultural and artistic exhibits.
Now the challenge is to reach people through new forms of media, not only younger consumers but people of all ages. Research commissioned by the state Parks and Tourism Department indicates that 65 percent of all Americans use social media.
When the survey was limited to people over the age of 65, it found that 35 percent used social media. In the age group of 18 to 29 years, 90 percent use social media. In all age groups the percentage of Americans who use social media is growing.
Because of the ready availability of so much instant information on the Internet and on smart phones, Arkansas tourism officials now consider American travelers as "hyper-informed." They also realize that the online landscape is constantly changing.
Last year more than 3.6 million people "visited" the state's main web page that promotes tourism - Arkansas.com. The challenge for tourism officials is to encourage those online visitors to plan a trip to Arkansas and book a room. Their term for this process is turning "appeal into action."
State tourism officials also know that they must overcome a perceived barrier of remoteness and expense that many people have. Many people want to travel to a convenient location. The rivers and mountains of Arkansas make beautiful scenery for travel brochures, but their beauty can also make them seem remote and difficult to access. Online tourism promotions use maps and videos, to guide and reassure potential visitors.
In general, Americans are traveling on vacation and therefore the national tourism industry is growing. However, there are areas in the country where the economy relies heavily on the sale of commodities and prices have stagnated. Specifically, state tourism officials mention in their annual report a significant slowing in markets that rely on iron ore, oil, corn and sugar.
Considering the regional variations in economic strength, Arkansas tourism officials try to avoid a "shotgun" approach to marketing and advertising. Instead, they have focused on niche groups, for example mountain bikers, golfers, bird watchers, history buffs and motorcycle clubs.
Arkansas reached out to followers of "mommy bloggers" and promoted the pleasant visits to the state of the Sippy Cup Mom from St. Louis, the Cubicle Chick from Nashville and the Traveling Mom from Austin.
Arkansas tourism is a different industry than it was in 1980, when travel added $1.4 billion to the state's economy. Now it contributes $7.7 billion. According to the hospitality industry, last October 116,700 Arkansas residents worked in the travel and tourism industry.
Arkansas levies a 2 percent sales tax on tourism-related items. In 2016 collections were up 4.36 percent, to $15.46 million.