The Blue Mountain project comes as tourism in Arkansas is vigorously bouncing back from COVID’s disastrous effects and travelers are looking for ever more outdoor activities. Tourism is the state’s No. 2 industry, with total travel expenditures hitting $7.68 billion in 2019, trailing only agriculture. 2020 numbers were crippled by the pandemic, but last year they started to revive.
“Collections of the 2% tourism tax from January 2021 to November 2021 were almost 50% higher than the same period in 2020, with increases in 70 of the 75 counties,” said Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism. “What’s really remarkable is that business and convention travel haven’t fully returned, so these numbers reflect a substantial increase in leisure travel,” she added. “We’ve rebounded nicely and are in a very strong position for continued growth.” Outdoor recreation is a boon for Arkansas, which for several decades has billed itself as “The Natural State.”
“During the early stages and height of the pandemic, we changed our tourism message to focus exclusively on safe travel and the access to incredible nature that Arkansas offers,” Hurst said, noting that visitors flocked in.
“We hit record visitation in Arkansas State Parks in 2021 with over 9 million visitors.”
The third most-visited park was Pinnacle Mountain, trailing Petit Jean State Park, which had 1.5 million visits in 2021, and Lake DeGray Resort State Park, Hurst said.
“With the new product we have available such as mountain biking trails and camper cabins, and with the access to new natural areas like Blue Mountain, we’re taking outdoor recreation to a new level in the state,” she said.