Arkansas Aims to Grow Visitor Base Despite Gaming Proposal Defeat

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The upcoming Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism, set for Pine Bluff March 16 to 18, comes several months after voters defeated a casino gambling proposal, which was opposed by Gov. Mike Huckabee.

That proposal would have brought casino gambling to Hot Springs, an activity that many in the travel industry welcomed because of competition for group and individual business.

The ever-expanding Mississippi casino-hotels, the high-stakes bingo games in Oklahoma and the lure of Branson, Mo., and its numerous showrooms all compete with Arkansas.

Joe David Rice, Arkansas' tourism director, said that although gambling is no longer an option, "the state is more determined than ever to expand its tourism base.

"Arkansas will continue to draw travelers with the beauty of its natural world and its living folk heritage and historical sites.

"[We also rely on] such major attractions as Hot Springs National Park, the Buffalo National River, Eureka Springs, the Ozark Folk Center, Blanchard Springs Caverns, the Delta Cultural Center and the state's mountains, lakes and float streams," he added.

In that context, Arkansas will be running both activity-oriented and scenery-focused ads in consumer publications, Rice said.

It also will be targeting "snowbirds" in Canada by direct mail as well as Arkansans with a Fun, Family and Friends theme.

To entice groups with special interests, an Antique Trail brochure and a Golf in Arkansas Guide are available for the first time.

Meanwhile, the Department of Parks and Tourism expects to publish a new series of themed sample itineraries by August, according to Marla Crider, group travel manager.

Historic Churches, the Civil War and Architecture will be among the themes, she said during a separate interview.

In a move to expand the motorcoach tour business, which now is concentrated in the central U.S., there will be some private familiarization tours for operators from New Jersey and California, Crider said.

Meanwhile, creating economic incentives for major tourism development projects is a legislative goal of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Rice added.

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