Jefferson County tourism numbers strong for 2011

The 2011 tourism statistics for Jefferson County show more than $110 million was spent by visitors in total travel expenditures for the year, which is a $1.5 million increase over the 2010 figure, according to Greg Gustek, director of the Pine Bluff Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 2011 data, released by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, showed total travel expenditures of $110,749,337; travel generated payroll of $20,920,225; travel generated jobs of 1,321; travel generated state tax of $6,150,758; travel generated local tax of $2,249,876; and total visitors of 451,038.

Gustek said that in addition to the $1.5 million increase in Jefferson County travel expenditures for 2011, there was an increase of roughly $500,000 in travel generated payroll between 2010 and 2011.

“It is a serious economic impact for Jefferson County when you have $110 million spent here on tourism,” Gustek said. “We have had a steady increase in expenditures over the past five years despite the overall economic conditions and high gas prices.”

“We’re just excited because in these tough times we are still holding our own,” Gustek said. “People don’t realize how many people have a job here in Jefferson County that is based on tourism. Tourism is a top 10 employer here. That is how important tourism is.”

Gustek said that he and his staff work hard to publicize the tourist offerings in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

“We have to promote our attractions because this is not a destination city,” Gustek said. “When our staffers go to conventions they are promoting Pine Bluff tourism. “Susie Madsen, our group tours manager, and Sheri Storie, our director of marketing and sales, work very hard to promote what we have to offer here. We go out and market our city every time we get a chance.”

“The Railroad Museum has worldwide travelers,” Gustek said. “Their guest book has people from China, Germany and Luxembourg. Our Historical Museum has had great tourism. We have Arkansas’ first and now newly remodeled Nature Center. We have special events like Smoke on the Water and our annual holiday light display, the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends at Regional Park.”

Bob Purvis, the executive director of the Pine Bluff Convention Center, said that the Pine Bluff area was doing fairly well in the tourism sector when taking into account the overall economic conditions in the country.

“We saw modest improvement,” Purvis said. “We are real pleased with the state numbers overall. But, we don’t want to be satisfied with less than excellent. We understand that with the economy how it is there are going to be some limitations. There are some positives even though things are not as up as we would like for them to be. Things are positive but we want them to be better.”