Gov. Asa Hutchinson kicked off the annual Arkansas Hospitality Convention in Little Rock on Wednesday by touting the impact the fast-growing tourism industry is having on the state's overall economic expansion.
Citing a recent U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report designating Arkansas as the nation’s economic leader during the first quarter, Hutchinson told convention-goers gathered at the Statehouse Convention Center that the tourism sector has also play a key role in recent job growth and low unemployment levels.
In the BEA report, Arkansas’ agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector contributed 2.21 percentage points to the 3.9% growth in Arkansas – the fastest growing state in the first quarter. Although agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting were not significant contributors to real GDP growth for rest of the U.S., it had an important impact on economic growth in Arkansas, data from the BEA report shows.
“Economic development is my number one priority, and tourism and hospitality is leading the say,” Hutchinson said.
During his brief speech, Hutchinson also noted recent statistics from a recent Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department report showing 28 million visitors spent $7.2 billion in total travel expenditures in Arkansas, bringing in $374 million in state taxes and $137 million in local taxes. The economic impact of travel and tourism on the state’s economy showed an almost “double digit” 8.69% increase in travel expenditures in 2015, the governor said.
That same report also shows growth in tourism jobs has also tracked with the gains in statewide tourism tax collections, state tourism officials said. Arkansas’s travel and tourism industry travel generated payroll has grown from $240 million in 1979 to $1.3 billion in 2015, an increase of 447.6% over the last 36 years.
Before cutting the ribbon to open the 72th AHA Convention, Hutchinson jokingly told the crowd gathered at convention center’s garden area that his administration should also be credited for recent events that have gained national attention.
“Under my administration, we had two of the biggest diamonds finds at the (Crater of Diamonds) State Park,” Hutchinson said. “And under my administration, we have crown another Miss America.”
Before he spoke, AHA Executive Director Montine McNulty thanked the governor for being the chief advocate for the state’s tourism industry. Over the two years, AHA staff and conventions have held a “red carpet” event to welcome the governor.
“He really gets what we are all about,” she said.
The 72nd AHA convention, which is billed as the largest hospitality event in the state, will continue in Little Rock through tomorrow. This year’s four-day event, themed “Out of This World,” features two culinary competitions, a bartending contest, educational sessions, a gala dinner, and the AHA’s annual golf tournament.
State Parks and Tourism Chief Kane Webb, who shared the podium with Gov. Hutchinson, said local advertising firms CJRW and Aristotle will unveil the state’s new tourism marketing and outreach campaign on the last day of the AHA convention.