Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders named Dalaney Thomas director of tourism at the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism on Oct. 23. Thomas succeeded Travis Napper, who left in June and had led the division since April 2020. She most recently worked as a senior account manager at advertising and marketing agency CJRW, where she oversaw two of the agency’s largest accounts: the state Division of Tourism and Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs.
Thomas received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Ouachita Baptist University in 2015.
What are your top priorities as director?
First, let me say as a native Arkansan that I love our state and I am so honored and humbled to serve as director of Arkansas tourism. Tourism is Arkansas’ second-largest industry and I look forward to helping grow that economy by encouraging continuous product development and expanding our reach into new markets, ultimately introducing more people to our wonderful Natural State. To achieve that goal, my first priority is to develop and execute an industry-engagement plan that will lead to stronger collaboration and allow the Tourism Division to better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist within the tourism sector. Additionally, we’ll continue to incorporate innovative creative campaigns that showcase the unique and world-class attractions that Arkansas offers.
What accounts for the rise in visitors to Arkansas last year?
Travelers from across the globe are figuring out what native Arkansans have known all along — that the Natural State is not only a great place to live; it’s a great place to visit. We’re known as the Natural State for a reason. Arkansas is home to some of the best mountain biking trails on the planet, not to mention the first National River (Buffalo National River) and the first unit in the National Park System (Hot Springs National Park). You don’t have to climb boulders or tackle whitewater rapids to experience the beauty and wonder of the outdoors. And that’s what we see time and time again when people talk about their visit to Arkansas. Our state truly offers an outdoor experience for everyone at every skill level.
How has marketing Arkansas to tourists changed in the last five to 10 years? What do the next five to 10 years look like?
Over the past decade, travelers have gravitated toward unique, authentic experiences that truly help them experience life as a local in a new destination. People want to experience something new that helps them gain a fresh perspective on the world and their own lives. This sentiment began a trend toward experiential activities and opportunities, whether it’s eating at a local diner, shopping at small local businesses, or taking part in activities like cycling that help visitors experience tourism destinations in a new way. Of course, Arkansas has long been known as a destination for outdoor experiences such as hiking, biking, floating, hunting and fishing. Promotion of these areas will continue to be a mainstay for the state. I think over the next decade we’ll continue to see greater collaboration between the state and private sectors, ultimately opening up new, innovative ways to market the Natural State as a whole. Another factor to consider is that technological advances in marketing will continue to allow us to make quick, strategic decisions about how we market to prospective visitors. In today’s digital landscape, marketers must be nimble to adapt to social media trends, viral marketing opportunities or other avenues to reach an ever-changing audience that has access to information from hundreds if not thousands of platforms. It’s certainly a challenge, but Arkansas has proven time and time again to be a time-tested commodity that entices visitors to our state.
Arkansas has several National Historic Sites, a National River and a National Park. How does the state work with the federal government in developing Arkansas tourism?
We are fortunate to work with tremendous partners at the state and federal levels who understand the importance of tourism to Arkansas’ economy. Thanks to the efforts of Governor Sanders and the Natural State Initiative Advisory Board, we have already been able to take these partnerships to a new level by leveraging knowledge and resources from the private industry. The goal is to further establish Arkansas as a leader in the outdoor economy and a destination for outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.
What is your favorite place to visit in Arkansas, and when’s the best time to go?
Arkansas has so many unique tourism attractions and opportunities. You can dig for diamonds and keep what you find at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. Tour one of only two purse museums in the world at ESSE Purse Museum in Little Rock. And immerse yourself in one of the finest American art collections in existence at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. But my favorite place to visit is anywhere with water. Arkansas’ rivers and lakes are some of the best in the country, and I’ve grown up floating, boating and relaxing on our waters.