OPINION | ANDREW MOREAU: Report indicates state's tourism industry recovering from covid – Arkansas Online

State tourism officials are touting a new report as an indication the industry is recovering from the pandemic and producing a comeback for one of Arkansas’ critical sectors.
The Natural State appears to be shaking off the gloom of the pandemic and once again is attracting visitors and, most importantly, increased spending to help boost jobs as spending spikes at parks, recreational areas, hotels and restaurants.
Arkansas’ tourism industry lured visitors again in 2021, setting new records after a dismal 2020.
Last week, the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism released an updated report covering spending and visits to the state last year.
Arkansas’ tourism industry proved resilient and escaped any long-term damage caused by the pandemic, according to Stacy Hurst, secretary for the state department.
“These numbers illustrate that Arkansas is in the midst of a public perception turning point when it comes to our national profile as a tourist destination,” she writes in the introduction to the report. “Together we can keep that momentum strong as we head into 2023 and beyond.”
More than 41 million visitors flocked to Arkansas in 2021, jumping up 41% compared with 29.2 million in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Arkansas had 36.3 million visitors in 2019.
Lodging experienced similar increases, with spending up 49% after dropping 29% in 2020. This rebound led to lodging spending exceeding its 2019 level by 5%.
Employment also improved significantly, reaching 98% of pre-pandemic numbers for restaurants, 96% in recreational businesses and 89% in lodging. Tourism provided 64,144 jobs last year, expanding by nearly 24% but still down from pre-pandemic levels. Nearly one in four tourism jobs went away in 2020.
The state’s joblessness report released Friday by the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services showed employment in leisure and hospitality was flat from July to August, with both months producing 128,600 jobs in the sector. Year-over-year employment was up by 7,300 jobs.
Last year, tourism accounted for nearly 6% of all jobs in Arkansas.
Other key findings:
• Tourism-related activities generated $1.1 billion in tax collections that support local, state and federal government operations. State and local taxes topped $653 million in 2021.
• National-park visits grew by 23% above pre-pandemic levels, drawing nearly 4 million people. Likewise, hunting and fishing licenses issued to nonresidents more than doubled from 2019.
• Average room rates at hotels in the state increased by 13%.
“It’s satisfying to see these numbers and know that we’re achieving our goal to improve the economy of our state,” Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism, wrote in the report.
The Little Rock Venture Center is accepting applications for students and entrepreneurs interested in taking part in the organization’s seventh-annual Jolt Cyber Challenge.
The weekend event is scheduled for Oct. 7-9 at the Jack Stephens Event Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Jolt is a hands-on competition that includes Jeopardy-style challenges designed by cyber experts. Game masters who are experts in cybersecurity and technology development oversee the competition.
Last year’s event attracted more than 130 competitors and more than 150 participants are expected in October.
“We’ve built Jolt into the premier cybersecurity event in the state,” said Christopher Wright, partner of Sullivan Wright Technologies and lead game master. “We purposefully make it approachable for people at all technical skill levels and we strive to help participants make as many lasting connections as possible.”
Tech-savvy competitors will battle for prizes while developing high-level skills in areas including remote access exploits, web vulnerabilities, code-breaking, physical security, privilege escalation, reverse engineering, and code manipulation.
“The Jolt Cyber Challenge is a powerful community event designed to connect students and tech industry professionals as they sharpen their tech skills, and it’s something we look forward to hosting every year,” said Wayne Miller, executive director of The Venture Center.
Team registration is $200 and $55 for individual participants, who will be placed with a team at the event.
For more information or to sign up, visit venturecenter.co/jolt.
Cross County Bank of Wynne, operating for more than 125 years, is unifying the organization under the Cross Bank name beginning Nov. 21.
The bank today has four offices in Cross County under the Cross County Bank name and six offices in Craighead, Monroe and Mississippi counties operating as First Commercial Bank.
“Unifying our bank under one name, Cross Bank, simplifies matters for our customers and our communities,” said David Dowd, president and chief executive officer of Cross County Bank. “Our First Commercial customers often don’t recognize they are part of a bank with a 131-year legacy in the community. Our Cross County Bank customers often don’t recognize the ability to conduct banking transactions at our six First Commercial Bank offices when it may be more convenient to do so.”
Cross County Bank was formed in 1891 by 31 investors in Wynne. Cross County Bank, which has the second-oldest bank charter among state-chartered banks in Arkansas, remains locally owned and managed.
Cross Bank will use a new logo, incorporating the familiar blue of Cross County Bank and a crossroads symbol that helps tell the story.
“The crossroad in our logo symbolizes our recognition that we’re here to help our customers make wise decisions on their financial journey,” Dowd said. “Crossroads are where people come together, seek advice and make decisions about their future.”
The Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center is sponsoring a seminar Wednesday in Monticello to help small businesses enhance their social-media presence and boost eCommerce efforts.
Participation is free and businesses can attend virtually or in person. The event will be held from 2-3:30 p.m. in the Student Success Center at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, 346 University Drive.
Training topics will include social media usage, eCommerce efforts and tips to enhance marketing and sales efforts.
The interactive workshop will help businesses identify target markets, the best platforms to use to reach customers and information about generating effective social-media postings.
More information is available at asbtdc.org.
Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at (501) 378-3567.

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