LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas tourism industry grew by 4.3 percent last year, which was the largest annual increase since 2008.
Travelers through Arkansas spent $5.6 billion in 2011. The number of travelers increased to more than 23 million, the highest number in three years. That figure refers to the number of "person-trips" made in Arkansas, which is defined as one person traveling more than 50 miles from home in one day, or one person staying overnight in paid lodging away from home.
The Arkansas travel industry directly employed almost 59,000 people and paid $1.1 billion in salaries.
Travelers through Arkansas paid more than $405 million in state and local taxes. One of those is the state tourism tax, a 2 percent sales tax on tourist related items such as fishing gear, boat rentals and hotel rooms. Last year revenue from the tourism tax topped $12 million for the first time since it was initiated in 1990. Proceeds from the tax pay for marketing and promotion of Arkansas tourism.
The marketing efforts of the state Parks and Tourism Department are concentrated in areas where people are most likely to visit Arkansas tourist attractions. The top markets are Dallas and Fort Worth, Houston, Memphis, Shreveport, Tulsa and Springfield, Missouri.
The primary focus of our tourism ads are people aged 25 to 49, with an emphasis on women and families with children. We market to senior citizens too, but not as much.
Our advertising also targets Kansas and Mississippi, with secondary marketing in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
Television commercials now appear on cable and satellite networks as well as online television such as Hulu. A 2011 study found that 49 percent of television viewers say they watch programming on the Internet as well as on traditional TV. Also, the study found that 11 percent of viewers say that they watch TV only on the Internet.
Ads for Arkansas tourist destinations appear on gas pumps in central Arkansas and inside Walmart stores, on what is called Checkout TV, in Dallas and northwest Arkansas.
The Parks and Tourism Department also places ads on radio, in newspaper inserts and in magazines about travel, hunting and fishing, the outdoors, women's interests (Family Circle and Southern Living), arts and culture. Also, ads appear in airline magazines (American, Southwest and Delta).
The department has made great strides with its web site, which last year earned a number one market share when measured against neighboring states and a top 10 position among tourism web sites nationwide.
The Arkansas tourism web site, at www.Arkansas.com,
had 4.7 million visits in 2011. That is up 13 percent over the previous year. Those Internet browsers linked to Arkansas tourism industry partners more than 1.1 million times. This means that the Parks and Tourism Department web site is an increasingly important gateway directing vacationers with questions to Arkansas tourism businesses.
Five counties accounted for more than half the travel-related spending in Arkansas - Pulaski, Garland, Washington, Benton and Sebastian. However, in 63 of the state's 75 counties travel spending totaled more than $10 million. In 12 counties, travel expenditures were more than $100 million last year.