LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas tourism-related businesses are getting an opportunity to learn how to better target potential customers as the state sees an uptick in visitors that's largely attributable to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
The annual Governor's Conference on Tourism runs Sunday through Tuesday in Hot Springs. The event features a Tuesday talk by Gov. Mike Beebe, as well as numerous sessions for hospitality workers and businesses to learn about targeting their advertising, using social media, incorporating the arts in their offerings and taking advantage of state promotions.
Even though tourism numbers are up in Arkansas, the state is facing increased competition from surrounding states, noted Marla Crider, deputy tourism director for the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department.
"Budgets for advertising to get visitors are increasing in Texas, and Mississippi is getting ready to increase their budgets," said Crider, the conference's lead organizer. "And we've always got Louisiana and Tennessee."
Last year, the state focused its tourism advertising on Crystal Bridges, the museum financed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. heiress Alice Walton's billions of dollars. The museum, which opened in November 2011 and has free admission for its regular collection, drew more than 600,000 patrons in its first 12 months.
"It is an international facility in scope. We don't have the opportunity to boast about such attractions in our state very often," Crider said.
The state also boasts the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, along with two national historic sites: the Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope, and Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock. All of them draw visitors from around the U.S. and abroad.
Tourism in Arkansas had an economic impact of $5.8 billion in 2011, when more than 23 million people were counted as visitors, according to the tourism department.
Among the topics featured at the conference is how to tailor advertising to specific age groups, "from the young family to the seniors and the millennial generation that's kind of new and has a little money to spend," Crider said.
There will also be a session on how business owners can better manage employees from the millennial generation, which is loosely defined as those born between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s.
"They have some very high expectations from their employers," Crider said.
Arkansas has long worked to attract tourists through promoting its outdoor opportunities, including hiking, rafting, hunting, birding and even digging for treasure at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. In the coming year, Crider said the state-financed advertising message will blend the outdoors message with arts.
The Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock is to feature an exhibition titled, "Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London," June 7 through Sept. 8. Most of the paintings have never been shown outside of the United Kingdom.
One talk will feature officials from the Arkansas Arts Center, Crystal Bridges and from Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs.
"The whole idea of this is to show other communities that even if it's on a small scale they can bring the arts into the offerings in their communities and it will help the tourism product," Crider said.