Arkansas taps ex-agent to fill tourism dept. role


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Joe David Rice, tourism director for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, is touting the hiring of a former travel agent, visitor increases and new attractions for the state.

A new addition to the department is group travel manager Ann Gray, a former travel agent, Rice said.

In recent years, Gray worked in the gift industry, running a gift shop in Eureka Springs, Ark., from where she also organized tour groups.

Earlier, Gray owned two retail travel agencies in the Cocoa, Fla., area during the 1980s and early 1990s. After selling them, she traveled the U.S.

Among her duties will be the development of an "aggressive fam tour schedule" for operators and agents, Rice said.

The department's marketing efforts are producing results, with Arkansas reporting 19.8 million visitors in 1999 -- about 3.2% more than in 1998.

"We're expecting about 20.5 million [visitors] in 2000, and roughly 21.5 million in 2001," Rice said.

New or planned attractions in Arkansas include Garvin Woodland Gardens, a $10 million project on the shores of Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs; Mount Magazine State Park, a $21 million complex under construction near the state's highest peak, and Crowley's Ridge National Scenic Byway, a 200-mile route extending from Helena to northeastern points.

Also on tap are $6 million in renovations at Fort Smith National Historic Site; the designation of Little Rock's Central High School as a National Historic Site, and the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center in Piggott, focusing on Ernest Hemingway's ties to northeastern Arkansas.

In Eureka Springs, "The Great Passion Play" is undergoing a series of enhancements, and the historical Basin Park and Crescent Hotels were remodeled.

The tourism department is placing additional emphasis on the Internet and is continuously adding to its home page, at, he said.

In other news, the 2-year-old Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at Highfill, near Bentonville, is doing well, according to Rice.

American Eagle begins regional jet service there Dec. 2 with two daily nonstops from New York (LaGuardia).

Atlantic Southeast, Northwest and TransWorld Express also serve the airport.

The theme for Travel South Showcase's 2001 closing night ceremony, March 17, set for the House of Blues in New Orleans, is "Splish Splash" -- a reminder that Hot Springs will be the host city for the 2002 Showcase, set for Feb. 23 to 27.

"For upcoming [trade] shows, we'll continue to emphasize Arkansas' diversity of attractions, convenient location, friendly people, scenery and affordable costs," Rice said.

"For consumers, we'll stress those characteristics, adding supplemental messages for families with kids and mature travelers."

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