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Oaklawn Progress Tops Wealth of Projects Boosting Tourism

3 min read

Hot Springs continues to move forward with important tourism-related projects and activities despite the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs.

“Signs of confidence in Hot Springs’ role as the No. 1 tourism destination in Arkansas are everywhere in our city,” Arrison said. “The confidence in the city’s tourism industry is on display all over town. Take a ride around the city, and you’ll see evidence of this confidence throughout the area.”

Recent research from Longwoods International showed that Hot Springs had 7.9 million visitors in 2018. That was an increase of 18% from the previous research findings in 2013. Arrison noted that sales tax collections in 2019 were greater than previous years and were trending upward for 2020 before the virus hit.

“When I visit with tourism and hospitality leaders I am reassured that they plan to move ahead,” Arrison said. “Before the virus hit in March, we were headed for a record year in Hot Springs tourism, and our hospitality industry believes we’ll get back on track as things return to normal.”

One of the brightest signs of progress is the construction of what is going to be the most luxurious hotel in Arkansas at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, Arrison said. The hotel, which should be ready for fans by the opening of the 2021 live racing meet, is going to be a gem, he said.

“It will be a four-star hotel, a top-notch lodging property,” Arrison said. “It’ll be the equal of anything in the region. And that’s in addition to Oaklawn’s recent opening of its tremendously expanded casino facilities, which are already drawing record numbers of players.”

He said other tourism-related projects showed that Hot Springs was moving ahead with plans to take advantage of the increase in visitors:

► Mehta Hospitality opened the Doubletree by Hilton Hot Springs on Lake Hamilton after a $30 million renovation of the former Clarion Hotel.

► Mid-America Science Museum just opened its new $1.5 million Exhibit Hall, which will allow it to bring in world-class special exhibits for its patrons.

► The Majestic Park Baseball Complex will break ground in August for the construction of five fields on the site of the first Major League Baseball spring training grounds where Babe Ruth spent his first spring training with the Boston Red Sox and where other baseball legends trained in the early years of the 20th century.

► The Northwoods Trails mountain biking system is open and is already developing an international reputation for biking enthusiasts. “Thanks to support from the Walton Family Foundation, we have a new skills track and totally upgraded trails on the Cedar Glades portion of the Trail System,” Arrison said. “We have also opened a connection to the trails from the downtown area off of Pullman Avenue.”

► The Waters Hotel has opened a new rooftop bar and restaurant downtown.

► The Hotel Hale, a unique boutique hotel located in one of the renovated bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, has opened and is doing capacity business.

► Under construction and opening soon is the Microtel by Wyndham, a new property opening adjacent to Oaklawn on Higdon Ferry Road

► Progress on finding a suitable project to fill the old Majestic Hotel site at the intersection of Central, Whittington and Park avenues has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but a new request for proposals is going out shortly for interested parties to develop the site.

According to the most recent Longwoods International research on Hot Springs tourism, visitors spent $186 million in local restaurants and bars in 2018. Retail purchases of visitors topped $143 million and overall visitor spending reached a record $677 million.

A June Geiger and Associated survey showed that towns such as Hot Springs will benefit from the ways that the virus is changing the travel habits of tourists.

“Towns that attract visitors who drive rather than fly to their vacation destinations will see a significant increase in visitors,” Arrison said. “And towns such as Hot Springs that offer tremendous opportunities for outdoor activities such as our lakes, mountains, forests and such will also see a significant increase in business.”

Hot Springs Growth Report

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