Don't Just Visit, Stay


Don't Just Visit, Stay
(Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism)

The Natural State Advisory Council has an ambitious and worthy goal for the next decade: double to $7 billion the $3.5 billion that Arkansas’ tourism industry contributes to the state’s economy.

Bryan Sanders, chairman of the council and husband of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, shared this goal during a Rotary Club of Little Rock presentation last week. “She [Sarah Huckabee Sanders] was tired of Arkansas competing at the bottom in everything, and certainly in places we deserve to be competing at the top,” Bryan Sanders said. “I started thinking about that and one of the areas I know we can compete at the top is outdoor recreation, particularly in this region of the country.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed migration patterns within the United States. Americans moved from cities to smaller towns, seeking space and affordability. And they moved from populous states like California and New York to smaller states, many of them in the sunny South.

Arkansas appeared to benefit from this trend. The state ranked at No. 12 in domestic net migration last year, gaining more than 18,000 new residents.

Outdoor recreation runs the gamut from hiking to hunting to boating to bicycling to water and snow skiing, and Arkansas can offer many of these opportunities. Outdoor recreation is also important to millions of Americans, and millions of them make their decisions about where to live based on where they can best pursue an outdoor lifestyle. 

Many of these people are “knowledge workers,” whom technology has enabled to perform their jobs from anywhere. They are affluent and well-educated and they have choices.

As Arkansas works to leverage its abundant natural attractions to lure tourists, the state should also seek to take advantage of post-pandemic migration patterns to turn these tourists into residents.