State tourism officials are touting a new report as an indication that the industry is recovering from the pandemic and producing a comeback for one of Arkansas’ critical sectors.
The natural state appears to be shaking off the gloom of the pandemic and attracting visitors again and, most importantly, increased spending to help boost jobs as spending increases in parks, recreation areas, hotels and restaurants .
Arkansas’ tourism industry again attracted visitors in 2021, setting new records after a dismal 2020.
Last week, the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism released an updated report covering spending and visitation in the state last year.
Arkansas’ tourism industry has proven resilient and escaped any long-term damage from the pandemic, according to State Department secretary Stacy Hurst.
“These numbers illustrate that Arkansas is in the midst of a turning point in public perception regarding our national profile as a tourist destination,” she wrote in the report’s introduction. “Together, we can maintain this strong momentum as we head into 2023 and beyond.”
More than 41 million visitors flocked to Arkansas in 2021, jumping 41% from 29.2 million in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Arkansas welcomed 36.3 million visitors in 2019.
Accommodation saw similar increases, with spending up 49% after falling 29% in 2020. This rebound led accommodation spending to rise 5% above its 2019 level.
Employment has also improved significantly, reaching 98% of pre-pandemic figures for restaurants, 96% in leisure businesses and 89% in accommodation. Tourism provided 64,144 jobs last year, up nearly 24% but still down from pre-pandemic levels. Almost one in four jobs in tourism disappeared in 2020.
The state’s unemployment report released Friday by the Arkansas Division of Labor Services showed employment in recreation and hospitality was flat from July through August, both months producing 128,600 jobs in the sector. Year-over-year employment increased by 7,300 jobs.
Last year, tourism accounted for nearly 6% of all jobs in Arkansas.
Other key findings:
• Tourism-related activities generated $1.1 billion in tax revenue that supports local, state and federal government operations. State and local taxes topped $653 million in 2021.
• Visitation to national parks increased by 23% over pre-pandemic levels, attracting nearly 4 million people. Likewise, hunting and fishing licenses issued to non-residents more than doubled compared to 2019.
• Average room rates at hotels across the state increased by 13%.
“It is satisfying to see these numbers and to know that we are meeting our goal of improving our state’s economy,” Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism, wrote in the report.
The Little Rock Venture Center is accepting applications from students and entrepreneurs interested in participating in the organization’s seventh annual Jolt Cyber Challenge.
The weekend event is scheduled for October 7-9 at the Jack Stephens Event Center at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.
Jolt is a hands-on competition that includes Jeopardy-style challenges designed by cyber experts. Game masters who are experts in cybersecurity and technology development oversee the competition.
Last year’s event attracted over 130 competitors and over 150 attendees are expected in October.
“We made Jolt the premier cybersecurity event in the state,” said Christopher Wright, Sullivan Wright Technologies Partner and Chief Gamemaster. “We deliberately make it accessible to people of all technical skill levels and strive to help participants make as many lasting connections as possible.”
Tech-savvy competitors will fight for prizes while developing high-level skills in areas such as remote access exploits, web vulnerabilities, code breaking, physical security, elevation of privileges, reverse engineering and code manipulation.
“The Jolt Cyber Challenge is a powerful community event designed to connect students and tech industry professionals as they hone their tech skills, and it’s something we look forward to hosting each year. said Wayne Miller, executive director of the Venture Center.
Team registration is $200 and $55 for individual participants, who will be placed with a team at the event.
For more information or to register, visit venturecenter.co/jolt.
CROSS BANK UNIFIES OPERATIONS
Cross County Bank of Wynne, in operation for over 125 years, is unifying the organization as Cross Bank from 21 November.
The bank now has four offices in Cross County as Cross County Bank and six offices in Craighead, Monroe and Mississippi counties as First Commercial Bank.
“Unifying our bank under one name, Cross Bank, makes things easier for our customers and our communities,” said David Dowd, president and CEO of Cross County Bank. “Our First Commercial customers often do not recognize that they are part of a bank with a 131-year heritage in the community. Our Cross County Bank customers often do not recognize the ability to transact banking in our six First Commercial Bank offices when it may be more convenient to do so.”
Cross County Bank was established in 1891 by 31 investors in Wynne. Cross County Bank, which has the second oldest bank charter among state chartered banks in Arkansas, remains locally owned and operated.
Cross Bank will use a new logo, incorporating Cross County Bank’s familiar blue and a crossroads symbol that helps tell the story.
“The crossroads in our logo symbolizes our recognition that we are here to help our customers make smart decisions in their financial journey,” Dowd said. “Hubs are where people come together, seek advice and make decisions about their future.”
SOCIAL MEDIA TRAINING
The Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center is sponsoring a seminar Wednesday in Monticello to help small businesses build their social media presence and boost their e-commerce efforts.
Attendance is free and companies can attend virtually or in person. The event will take place from 2-3:30 p.m. at the University of Arkansas Student Success Center at Monticello, 346 University Drive.
Training topics will include the use of social media, e-commerce efforts, and tips for improving marketing and sales efforts.
The interactive workshop will help businesses identify target markets, the best platforms to use to reach customers, and insights into generating effective social media posts.
More information is available at asbtdc.org.
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