Come on, now, what do you really think about tourism?
Over my 40 years at the paper, I've heard both sides of it. People who don't like the traffic, the crowds, the trash (it's not about the tourism, it's about the tourists). But I also hear from people whose livelihoods depend on it, who are thankful for the crowds that show up year after year, especially during the pandemic.
But what do you really think?
That's a question the state of Arkansas wanted answered, with the end result being the Resident Sentiment Study.
A summary was released this week from the study, and it's pretty telling, even if the number of survey respondents, 1,014 from October to November 2022, seems kind of low to me.
Survey respondents were 18 to 65-plus years old and 52% male and 48% female.
Only 7% of those surveyed fit the definition of being employed in tourism; that is, at least one person in their household was employed in tourism and the hospitality industry. Another 92% said no one in their household fit that definition.
Survey topics covered included: Overall sentiment about tourism; Tourism development and growth; Tourism promotion; Economy; Tourism employment; Quality of life; Environment; Involvement/Engagement with tourism; Accommodation-sharing services; Sporting events; Festivals, events, fairs; Tourism ambassadors; Activities of interest; and Public funding support.
The main takeaway? One enthusiastic slide in the presentation summed it up for me:
"Arkansas residents support tourism!"
According to the survey, 75% of residents surveyed think tourism is good for their state and 68% think tourism is good for their local area, while 73% want to see tourism thrive in the state and 66% want to see it thrive in their local area.
The key, though, was that 68% of those surveyed believed the positive benefits of tourism outweigh the negative impacts.
There were also some interesting citizen responses to "accommodation-sharing services," i.e. Airbnb and Vbro, a hot topic of late.
"While there is support in Arkansas for accommodation-sharing services, most residents want them regulated and they have concerns about the impact on inflation and the quality of life in neighborhoods," the summary stated.
While 60% of residents surveyed believe accommodation-sharing services provide visitors with the "opportunity to experience local cultures and neighborhoods," and 55% think they provide economic opportunities for residents, 52% believe accommodation-sharing services should be regulated, just like hotels and other property-rental businesses.
Also, 41% believe accommodation-sharing services can cause inflation in rents, raising the cost of living for locals, and 32% believe people who use these services can be disruptive to local neighborhoods.
Not surprisingly, given the other responses, 71% of the residents surveyed said they are proud to call their area home and 60% say they recommend local tourist sites to people who are visiting their area, although I think that number would be higher in Hot Springs and other tourist destinations in the state. I can't count the number of times I've been out in the community the past year and gotten stopped by someone on the street who was looking for a recommendation on where to eat, where to get information, or if it was OK to park somewhere.
One final takeaway: 64% of residents surveyed say that visiting other places gives them a greater appreciation for their state. I totally agree. It's fun to go to the beach or walk through a large city center with all the sights and sounds of crowds and things to do. But it makes me appreciate that summertime stroll down Bathhouse Row, tourists or not, all the more.