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Tourism made an economic impact of nearly $10 billion in the 2019 Arkansas economy. No industry experienced a more significant effect from the widespread COVID-19 pandemic like tourism and hospitality. Last March, the Arkansas Tourism Department was coming off the hype and momentum of the 2020 conference as announcements were made about a global shutdown. Building on last year’s theme, “Tourism takes grit,” this year they are expanding with a new tagline for this year’s virtual conference, “GRIT: Generating Recovery in Tourism.”
While the Arkansas tourism department team used much of the year to connect, equip and resource local tourism professionals, they have used the feedback and conversations of the previous year to make decisions related to the 2021 Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Hospitality with an intention for greater reach and a substantial impact to local communities. Joy Barlogie, director of research and development, shared that the conference will focus on two main areas: exposure and recovery.
“We want to get to as many people in the industry as we can. We want them to know how we can help them, meet our staff and share the economic driver that tourism is for all communities. We want to make sure they have the resources to be prepared and equipped as we roll out of this pandemic time. We want to be ready to welcome the world because they are …ready to travel.”
Barlogie and the team decided several months ago to move the conference to a completely online platform knowing eleventh-hour decisions would be inevitable if any activities took place in person.
“As we started planning, we were considering a hybrid model, with in-person experiences and online connection. We knew we would have to make a last-minute decision in the days leading up to the conference whether we could do an in-person meeting. So, we decided to just make plans from the beginning to take it all to a virtual environment and expand the reach in our planning efforts.”
This year, the conference is being offered without a registration fee in hopes that more local tourism and agritourism professionals across the state will attend.
“We know local communities took a hard hit, and for many of those…they have to decide between closing their store, using money to pay a fee to attend, and the meals and hotel expense around traveling or not attending. It was important to us to keep the momentum going that has been gained over the last year.”
Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism
March 2-3, 2021
Virtual attendees will not have to worry about all the breakout sessions and co-working opportunities. With the virtual environment, all registrants will attend the same online broadcast session over two days. Some of the highlights include:
— Opening address from Governor Asa Hutchinson, Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst and Arkansas Tourism Director, Travis Napper on the tourism industry’s current state.
—Storytelling session to equip local business owners to tell the hero’s story in their products.
—A return visit from Jamie Clarke, an extreme adventurer who has climbed the Mount Everest summit eight times. His keynote address will bring a needed challenge to take the demands of difficult times and redirect them into a catalyst for industry growth.
—Panel discussions around planning for the 2024 eclipse and practical steps local communities take to prepare for potential international visitors.
—A new partnership with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to expand on the growth of fishing in rural communities and their 2021 programming for education and local community expansion.
—Discussion of heritage tourism with a 35-year travel industry professional. This will flip thinking about what every little town in Arkansas might have to attract new visitors and market hometown location.
With FREE access for all attendees, 2021 is the perfect year for anyone who owns a small business and:
— Is thinking about expanding their product line.
— Is curious about how historical properties could draw new economic value for a community.
— Serves in a civic role.
— Owns a local investment or vacation property.
— Wants to know more about the impact of the pandemic on this critical economic industry for Arkansas.
Previous year attendees would tell you the session with Jamie Clarke is reason enough to register just to get inside the mind of a determined athlete, one who has time and again personally overcome odds and redirected a survivalist mindset for success.
In closing, Barlogie shares a wish and challenge for all Arkansans. In pointing out that nontraditional lodging is becoming a preference, she says people previously referred to as “tourists,” now consider themselves temporary citizens in a town. Arkansas spends a lot of money to make the state attractive, and businesses want to help those who come experience what’s special here, and make those people feel special themselves.
“It is our biggest goal with the conference to remind everyone that they are a tourism specialist for their town. We know it’s up to restaurant owners, gas station attendants, boutique salespersons, and ordinary citizens to roll out the welcome mat and make them feel at home. They want to know where we love to eat, how we spend our weekends and what is so special about our towns. Our team wants to help resource these communities and make connections that continue to draw people back to Arkansas over and over.”
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