Tourism in Arkansas is a natural.
The Arkansas Welcome Center on Interstate 30 east of Texarkana, Ark., had 304,021 visitors for 2018—an 11 percent increase over 2017, manager Melissa Adams said.
The welcome center is not the largest in the state, but it is the busiest. Fort Smith, West Memphis and Blytheville are the same size and similarly located at entry points into Arkansas on the interstate.
The Texarkana, Texas, Travel Information Center had 317,000 visitors in 2018.
"Travel counselors try to talk to every visitor who enters the center and, through those conversation, find out who is spending the night in Texarkana and who is traveling through," said Valerie Eaves, supervisor of the Texas Travel Information Center.
"They help them with information on hotels in Texarkana, or along their route through and into Texas. They also help with locating local restaurants and gas stations. The counselors also tell them about attractions to see and events that are going on, both here in Texarkana area and the rest of Texas," Eaves said.
Arkansas Welcome Center at Red River had 33,557 total visitors for 2018 versus 23,042 in 2017, said Sheila Nichols, manager of the center, which is one of the newest in the state.
"There is no doubt that being in this new center has increased our visitation," Nichols said.
"A big thanks to the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) for making sure this building was built. The numbers prove that this building has made a huge difference in our visitors that stop in here and want information. Here at Red River, we only count people that walk into our lobby. We have many that stop just for the restroom facilities and enter and exit through the north hallway door. Those are not counted as our visitors. If we counted those, our numbers would be a lot higher," she said.
"A visitor must enter the lobby to be counted. The free coffee that we offer gives us the opportunity to start a conversation with a lot of visitors that normally wouldn't take the time to visit with us. We use that opportunity to sell Arkansas. Visitors also stop to look at our display cases and that gives us another opportunity to start a conversation," she said.
"Anytime a visitor stops and spends money in this area, it helps the economy. We promote downtown businesses in Texarkana and Ashdown, depending on which direction the traveler is going when they stop here for information. We have made a sheet with culinary options that we hand out to our visitors that list most Texarkana, Ark., restaurants, (not chain restaurants), that have their operating hours, phone number, and address. This list also includes places to eat in the cities of Ashdown, Lockesburg, De Queen, Wickes, and Mena.
"It explains what type of food each business serves. This allows couples or families to decide what and where they may want to stop and grab a bite during their road trip. We also have a sheet with attractions along Highway 71. Does it show people are traveling more or less in the region? We no longer ask the visitors questions like we did in the past. We have found that by starting a simple conversation, we can usually find out more of what activities and hobbies they are interested in, and we promote what our state has to offer that they like. Hiking and mountain biking is a big draw right now, especially for the younger generations," Nichols said.
" we are asked (where the closest fuel stop is) quite a lot. We do have a lot of complaints that there isn't hardly anywhere to stop between Shreveport and Texarkana on I-49. That's okay with us! It means they are stopping here! We have a lot of visitors that are traveling north or south that stop here before getting on or after getting off of I-49.
"For the year 2017, according to the preliminary Arkansas Parks and Tourism's Annual Report, 'travel-generated' state tax dollars were $4,854,420 and 'travel generated' local tax dollars was $1,575,927 for Miller County. As for the actual sales tax revenue from tourism, I don't know that. The 2018 Annual Report won't be available until sometime later in the spring," she said.
"Texarkana, Ark., could use a few more attractions for the younger generations. We have plenty of hotels and restaurants available. Photographer's Island downtown is a popular spot for our visitors. Our visitors that are traveling through like to make a quick stop to stretch their legs, and it is one of their favorite things to do. This also sends them to our downtown area, which we promote daily. We have a lot of visitors from this region that use doctors and dentists in Texarkana, and we use every opportunity presented to us to send them to downtown Texarkana businesses," Nichols said.