Arkansas targets upscale tourists, niche markets.
Traditionally, visitors come to Arkansas to hunt, fish, hike, camp and boat on lakes. Those activities are relatively inexpensive for tourists, which means they don't generate much revenue for Arkansas.
"Look at the economy - it's booming," says Joe David Rice, tourism director of the state Department of Parks and Tourism. "People have money to spend, and we're not taking advantage of it. We're offering bargain-basement prices in an era of affluence.
"People from other states come here with a tank full of gas and an ice chest full of food and spend only $200. We're trying to bring in a more upscale traveler who'll stay in bed and breakfast inns and spend money at the microbrewery [Ozark Brewing Co.] in Fayetteville."
Although revenue from Arkansas tourism continues to increase slightly from year to year, Rice says, "We're finding that Arkansas' tourism product has stagnated in recent years."
While Arkansas continues to offer mountains, lakes, rivers and other scenic attractions, casinos have sprouted like green onions in the Delta of Mississippi, Beale Street is booming in Memphis, Dallas has constructed a NASCAR racing facility, and Shreveport has renovated the downtown riverfront. Those cities lure tourists who might otherwise vacation in Arkansas.
So Parks and Tourism has come up with some new ways to spend its $11 million annual budget.
The state partnered with Hummer to print 75,000 brochures to lure drivers of sport utility vehicles to the backroads of Arkansas. The theory is, SUV owners, and Hummer owners in particular, will spend more money on vacation than campers and fisherman since SUV owners tend to be an affluent group.
The state is also targeting Civil War buffs, antique shoppers and fishermen. Parks and Tourism is even buying an ad in "American Motorcycle" magazine to coax the Harley-Davidson crowd to the Natural State.
In February, for Black History Month, Parks and Tourism began running television commercials to show African-Americans what Arkansas has to offer. Although 16 percent of Arkansas' population is black, only about 3 percent of the state's tourists are black, says Rice.
Rice says the state views black travelers as a potential market much like fly fishermen or SUV drivers.
"Black travelers are a market we're pursuing just like any other," he says.
But, Rice admits that African-Americans are more interested in vacationing in cities rather than rural areas, and, as a group, blacks have little interest in Ozark Mountain folklore.
"Black travelers find little fascination with Arkansas' outdoor travel product,"he says. As a result, few African-Americans travel to Arkansas on vacation, and black Arkansans often leave the state when they take time off work.
But Hot Springs and Eureka Springs, with its Great Passion Play, have traditionally been destinations for black travelers, says Rice, and the state will try to promote those cities to African-Americans during Black History Month each year.
"We think there is an opportunity here, and we're trying to capture it," he says. "We've got to have a product they're interested in."
Rice says African-American travelers have said they felt unwelcome in Arkansas because they saw no photographs of black people in brochures about the state. The television spot is an effort to remedy that problem, he says.
"We're trying to respect cultures and do economic development and keep our toes out of hot water," says Rice. "It's really a balancing act."
After poor results in 1998, Parks and Tourism decided not to produce a combined magazine and newspaper insert in 1999. An insert, as the name indicates, is inserted into publication and is not attached to the binding or pages.
In a Nov. 16 report to the city, Blackwood Martin/CJRW, the advertising firm that represents Fayetteville and the Department of Parks and Tourism, said inquiries from potential Fayetteville tourists were down by 20 percent - about 6,200 responses - in 1998 because of a lackluster response to the insert. The insert replaced ads that Fayetteville would have purchased for March and April in three magazines: Midwest Living, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
"The insert did not perform as strongly as Fayetteville's ads have in past years," Blackwood Martin said. But responses were higher in 1998 than in three of the last four years.
Blackwood Martin noted that collections from the city's hotel-motel-restaurant tax, which is considered a good barometer of the city's tourism health, were up by 9.9 percent in 1998 over the previous year.
According to the agency's study, young couples and "baby boomers" accounted for about 95 percent of the travelers to Arkansas. Adults between ages 25 and 44 represented more than 60 percent of Arkansas' leisure-travel visitors in 1998. More than 80 percent of the visitors to Arkansas came via automobile, truck or recreational vehicle.
"The state's primary tourist market originates within a 200- to 400-mile radius, representing about a one-day drive time by auto," the study stated.
Rice says most visitors to Arkansas come from the central United States between Oklahoma City to the west and Jackson, Tenn., to the east. Any further east or west and travelers seem to prefer the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains to those in Arkansas. The Natural State attracts tourists from as far north as Canada and as far south as the Gulf Coast.
Out-of-state visitors to the Ozarks come primarily from Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
In addition to ads placed in 16 magazines, Fayetteville decided in 1999 to advertise in three new publications: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, Journey and McCall's.
In 1998, costs varied considerably for magazine advertising, ranging from $l.18 per response in the Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association Tour Guide, which has a circulation of 125,000. to $49.16 per inquiry from Family Circle, which has more than 2 million subscribers.
During 1999. Fayetteville will spend $225,000 on advertising. Of that amount, $137,185 will be for magazine advertising and $42,010 for newspaper advertising.
Southern Living will receive the most money from the Fayetteville ($19,340) in 1999. Last year, cost per response from the Southern Living ads was calculated at $9.07. This year, $3,294 will be spent with the Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association Tour Guide (which offered the best rate per response last year), and $6,038 will be spent with Family Circle (which was the most expensive per response).
Although Arkansans of a certain vintage have been trained to hate Texans, the Lone Star State dispenses more travelers to Arkansas than any other. In 1997, some 203,914 Texans visited Arkansas and stopped by one of the state's 14 tourist information centers to make it official.
The next two states on the list (if you don't count Arkansans wandering into the tourist centers) are Missouri and Oklahoma, each of which sends about 90,000 travelers per year across the state border.