Arkansas tourism bouncing back after year of restrictions

Business

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The state is beginning to see increased travel, which will hopefully bode well for the hospitality industry in Arkansas. 

The Department of Arkansas Tourism uses data from the state’s welcome centers as an indicator on travel and over 82,000 visited the state’s welcome centers in March of this year.

Last March the state saw 45,981 visits and that was around the time Governor Hutchinson began imposing restrictions. 

So while people are on the move it’s not all the way back to where it was pre-Covid. 

“We got a ways to go but they’re sitting on ‘go.’ I mean every venue, every facility, every restaurant, every airport and airlines they’re all ready to go,” Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Zook said.

The hospitality industry in Arkansas has felt the brunt of many of the governor’s restrictions.  The limiting of people in restaurants, limiting who can stay in hotels, and closing state parks all had effects. 

Many officials say people still are not travelling for business near the levels they were in 2019. 

Jim Keet, who owns Petit and Keet, says he has been hearing good things from many of his customers recently.

Keet said the mask mandates being lifted did put restaurants in a delicate position. 

Many restaurants still require staff to wear them but patrons have been given more freedom and he thinks that will continue.

“I think that will continue to accelerate as more people are vaccinated and people get more comfortable being around other people,” Keet said.

Hotels in Arkansas have not bounced back as quickly.  Zook says the convention venues in Little Rock, Fayetteville, Jonesboro, and Hot Springs have not been able to recover as quickly since many of those events are planned well in advance.

“Because those events get planned sometime in advance, it takes a while for that to just open back up,” Zook said.

Keet believes the resort areas of the state will see a steady uptick in activity this summer since there is still some hesitancy to fly. 

He thinks the ‘staycation’ will be more prominent in Arkansas and to surrounding areas, “They’re more inclined to go to local destinations where they can drive.”

Officials are hoping for a much more active summer this season and are hopeful for the state’s second-biggest industry to come back fully. 

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