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OPINION | JACK BATEMAN: Bring magic back

Arkansas tourism rebuilding for 2022 by JACK BATEMAN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | December 2, 2021 at 3:11 a.m.

As we begin the final month of the year, one thing is clear: 2021 was a year of rebuilding in a world of uncertainty for almost every industry.

Though Arkansas' travel and tourism industry began showing slight improvements toward the end of 2020, the unexpected setbacks in 2021 continue to strain one of the state's largest industries, seriously damaging consumer confidence in experience-based purchases.

As we look toward 2022, it will be vital for industry leaders to be vigilant in rebuilding consumer confidence to bring the magic back to Arkansas tourism.

Every year, Arkansas tourism draws in nearly $500 million in state and local tax revenue. As vaccine rates increase this year, we continue to see a much-needed boost in both local and out-of-state tourists, which led to more doors reopening and events being held. However, the ability to keep up with this demand continues to be a struggle for many businesses not only in Arkansas, but nationally.

Attractions, restaurants and hotels are struggling to keep up as we face lower budgets, loss of staff and difficulty hiring trained teammates. The high demand in the job market has taken a toll on productivity across all disciplines, as many businesses are mass-hiring following previous large layoffs at the beginning of the pandemic.

Additionally, national supply- chain issues continue to have serious implications as almost every consumer-facing industry has been impacted, causing a decline in brand promise.

At Magic Springs Theme and Water Park, we faced many of the same complications during our operating season. We struggled alongside the rest of the nation with inconsistencies in demand, supply-chain issues and hiring constraints. But one thing was made clear to me even after decades of tourism experience: Fun is fuel.

Individuals and families alike looked to our state's tourism entities for escape from covid difficulties and stressors. The tourism industry plays a vital role in the creation and maintenance of healthy families and balanced lives.

In 2021, we saw more guests than we expected, many loyal returning guests and even more newcomers in search of fun. Theme parks weren't the only organizations that experienced increased demand. Visitation at Arkansas State Parks increased 9.9 percent in 2020 over 2019, according to the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. I have no doubt 2021 data will show the same trend.

As we begin planning for the new year, industry leaders, particularly in Arkansas, must work together to provide visitors and residents with a diverse array of entertainment and recreational options across the state. In the last two years, organizations have made innovative, creative adaptations to their regular programming or offerings in order to meet the evolving needs of guests. We've seen virtual innovations, new programs, fresh ideas and unique outreach of which we should all be proud.

For Magic Springs, we are bringing the magic back by adding more value to our operating season. We will extend our operating season to open earlier in the spring so guests can enjoy more rides, more concerts and more much-needed fun.

We are honored to provide a small sense of normalcy as Arkansans continue to navigate through the pandemic and to work alongside so many passionate, talented tourism leaders to rebuild our industry, restore consumer confidence and bring Arkansans and visitors alike the entertainment they deserve.

In order to move forward, we have to be honest amid the ups and downs, and work together to bring the magic back to Arkansas tourism.

Jack Bateman is general manager at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park.

Print Headline: Bring magic back


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