Chamber, Visitors Bureau Take Advantage of Crowd

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Nov. 15, 2004 12:00 am  

With thousands of people in town for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock economic developers have dusted off the welcome mat in an attempt to attract future business.

Both the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce have invited key business decision-makers to check out the opening ceremony and festivities.

"It is impossible to overemphasize the impact the Clinton Center has made on what we do," said Lucas Hargraves, director of special events, marketing and operations for the Visitors Bureau. "In some cases it has been the deal maker. It has been the reason why people have booked business with us."

The presidential library has already been credited with bringing conventions and attractions to Little Rock — including a round of the NCAA Tournament in 2008.

"It's amazing what's happened even before it has opened," said Matt Largen, business development coordinator for the Little Rock Chamber. "I think once it's opened, it's going to present opportunities we can't even imagine."

With the Clinton Library open, Hargraves said that Little Rock can be marketed as a destination city.

"That is our anchor attraction, without a doubt," he said.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has invited site selection consultants to the city and will show them around the region this week, Largen said. He said the details about who was coming were still being hammered out last week.

"The most important thing is to show them a good time while they're here," Largen said.

The opening of the library "is a way to start the relationship."

"That's how we view this opening week," Largen said. "It's our job afterward to maintain contact with them."

Last week, Chamber employees were printing up pamphlets highlighting information about Little Rock and the area. The information sheets include facts on the quality of life, taxes, education and labor statistics. The pamphlets will be geared toward business prospects and handed out at the Chamber of Commerce's office in the River Market.

"We want to make sure we open our doors to the world," Largen said. "We expect a lot of people to stop by."

Largen also said he wants visitors to know that in the last 10 years, $1.3 billion worth of development projects have occurred or have been announced in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The No. 1 goal this week, Largen said, was for visitors to take back the message that Little Rock is a "good place to live, and it's a great place to do business."

At the Visitors Bureau, this week also will be a critical time to shine.

"We've been meeting for over a year and a half on how to take advantage of this historic week in Little Rock," Hargraves said. "It's a fantastic opportunity for us [to market] the city to a national and international audience that we would not have the chance to otherwise."

Hargraves said the Visitors Bureau is bringing some of its top convention prospects this week on an official trip in an attempt to generate future business.

Tour operators and consultants who package tours for leisure travelers also have been invited to check out the city this week, he said.

"The library has opened so many markets for us," he said. "It has provided the hook and the spark that we needed to bring people here the first time."

Hargraves said research has shown that visitors to Little Rock will return — but the trick is "trying to attract those first-time visitors."

To make sure that Little Rock is in tip-top shape, the Visitors Bureau has conducted training seminars with hotel workers, taxi drivers and others in the hospitality industry to prepare them for the flood of people.

Hargraves said that during the training course, instructors reviewed the answers to questions tourists might have and other information about the city.

The Visitors Bureau also has asked restaurants and retailers to stay open later during the week of activities and on Sunday.

For those looking for answers on the Internet, the Visitors Bureau has launched Arkansasglobecoming.com, a Web site featuring a comprehensive schedule for the week's events, maps and lists of places to eat.

(ClintonLittleRock.com, a site created by Arkansas Business and KTHV-TV, Channel 11, also provides special news coverage of the Clinton Presidential Library grand opening and information about Little Rock.)

The Clinton Library is expected to attract about 300,000 visitors to Little Rock in its first year of operation.

"Nobody really knows what this is going to do for the area," Largen said. "We just have to be ready for anything."

 

 

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