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Turning East: state tries to attract Japanese tourists.

"Arkansas e yokoso irashaimashita."

It means "welcome to Arkansas" in Japanese.

If Judy Stough has her way, more and more people will be hearing the phrase soon.

Specifically, Japanese tourists.

Stough works for the tourism division of the state Department of Parks and Tourism. She is in charge of promoting Arkansas on the international level.

For now, that means Japan, the only country other than Canada targeted by state tourism officials.

With an annual budget of $50,000, Stough and a staff member in Tokyo work to make Arkansas as attractive as possible to Japanese travelers.

"We're trying to promote Arkansas as part of a Southern package," says Stough, who has been involved with the program since its inception two years ago. "We're trying to get agents to put Arkansas on their itineraries."

In the past six months, Stough says, Arkansas has been visited by writers from six of Japan's leading magazines. Most recently, two writers from Tokyo's second-largest newspaper, which has a readership of more than 10 million people, came to Arkansas.

"They're putting out a 12-page section in March on the Mississippi River country," Stough says.

Two of Japan's largest travel agencies, Japan Travel Bureau and Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., have shown an interest in Arkansas as well. Both have packages that include visits to the state.

Kinki Nippon also serves Japanese students wishing to study in Arkansas, placing them in homes across the state.

One of the executives making the trip across the Pacific Ocean to see what Arkansas has to offer was Takao Tanabe, Kinki Nippon's manager of marketing and sales.

"He was impressed with the hospitality," Stough says. "His people felt very welcome. That's what we're trying to promote."

Tokio Kasuga, owner of Arkansas' Excelsior Hotel, was appointed by Gov. Bill Clinton as an honorary ambassador for tourism. He works with state officials to bring Japanese tourists to Arkansas.

Happy With Hot Springs

Stough, who hopes to see her small operation grow into a true international section, says Hot Springs has been the most attractive location thus far for Japanese tourists. That especially holds true for seasoned, older travelers.

"They loved Bathhouse Row, the mountains, the lakes," she says of the Japanese travel writers. "They said it feels like Japan."

The writers asked to see Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita as well as Crater of Diamonds State Park at Murfreesboro, the only diamond mine in the United States.

"They also loved Fort Smith because of its Old West history, cowboys and such," Stough says. "Fort Smith does very well."

Stough says a favorite souvenir of some Japanese visitors was beef jerky.

Another reason Arkansas is becoming attractive to Japanese tourists is the increasing number of Japanese businesses with facilities in the state.

"We've got so much Japanese business in Arkansas," Stough says.

One example is the Sanyo Manufacturing Corp. plant at Forrest City.

"They're trying to get a Japanese festival started there for Sanyo employees," Stough says.

So what is Arkansas' greatest selling point to the Japanese?

"Its uniqueness," Stough says. "They've already done the East Coast and the West Coast. They want to see the real America, the rural side of America.

"Not to mention they can play golf here at reasonable rates, which is no small thing."
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Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Nov 11, 1991
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