Arkansas Tourism Conference Slated for March

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- When the Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism convenes March 16 and 17 in Jonesboro, the theme will be: "Building Tourism: The Future is Now." Tourism growth has not occurred in Arkansas for the past three years, with annual visitors figures virtually unchanged and annual visitor spending remaining at slightly more than $3 billion.

In 1997, there were some 18.1 million visitors, the same as in 1995, while in 1996 the total was somewhat less, 18.06 million. The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism counts only those visitors traveling 100 miles or more in-state or those staying overnight.

According to a 1996 tourism study done for the state in 1997 by D.K. Shifflet & Associates, McLean, Va., Arkansas continues to face stiff competition from the theaters in Branson, Mo.; attractions in Nashville and elsewhere in Tennessee, plus the gambling casinos just over the border in Mississippi, especially those in Tunica and Lula.

To stimulate motorcoach tours and construction of new attractions, Arkansas' visitor interests last year were successful in getting the state legislature to approve two laws. Under the first, the state agreed to reimburse motorcoach operators one cent for each mile they traveled within Arkansas in conjunction with an overnight stay.

This payment somewhat offsets an ad valorem tax assessed on the coaches by Arkansas, something that has been opposed vigorously by the operators.

Under the second act, Arkansas pledged to rebate a portion of the sales tax collected by major developers of new recreational and entertainment facilities that would draw at least 25% of their visitors from outside of the state.

During the upcoming governor's conference slated for the Arkansas State University Convocation Center, some 650 delegates will hear an updated report from two D.K. Shifflet officials: Lisa Bellisario, destinations marketing analyst, and Tom Dewhurst, research analyst.

Separately, details of the 1998 State Tourism Marketing Report: Blueprint for the Future will be presented by state officials. These speakers also will give a presentation to supplier attendees, titled 10 Affordable Ways to Build Your Business for the Future, which will cover the Internet, research, co-op advertising, the use of databases, publicity, business marketing and other methods of boosting sales.

The keynote address will be delivered by Doug Lipp, a hospitality consultant based in Fair Oaks, Calif., who formerly was the head trainer at Walt Disney University. His topic will be the Magic of Exceptional Customer Service: How to Build, Win and Keep Your Market Share. During a seminar afterward, Lipp will discuss other aspects of guest service.

Other subjects to be covered include Scenic Byways, by Ruth Hawkins, of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and Steve Weston of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, Little Rock; Action Plans for Success, by Jay Rifenbary, president of Rifenbary Training & Development Center, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Arkansas' Web sites, by Marla Johnson, chief executive officer of Aristotle Internet Access, Little Rock.

Also on the agenda are Using Retail Trends to Develop Downtown, by Stephanie Redman, National Main Street program associate for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, and Capturing the Baby Boomer Market, by Maddy Kent Dychtwald, co-founder of Age Wave Inc., Orinda, Calif., which follows trends in marketing to mature travelers.

The Journey Into the Next Millennium is the topic of Edward Barlow Jr., president of Creating the Future Inc., of St. Joseph, Mich. Also, a state highway beautification program called Operation Wildflower will be discussed by Ralph Hall of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will address the closing banquet, which will include the presentation of the Henry Awards recognizing those making contributions that boost tourism.

Registration to attend the entire conference, including meals, costs $125 if that sum is remitted by March 13. Thereafter, the cost is $160. For information, contact Nancy Clark, assistant tourism director, (501) 682-1120.

The Holiday Inn, Jonesboro, the conference's host hotel, is sold out. However, other Jonesboro properties are extending nightly rates of $50 or less to delegates. They include the Autumn Inn, Best Western, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Jonesboro Motel, Park Inn, Ramada Limited, Scottish Inn, Super 8 and Wilson Inn. To assure convention rates, reservations must be made directly with the hotels before March 1.

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