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Ozark Gateway Tourist Council banquet honors businesses, individuals

Featured image (from left): Arkansas Tourism Director Travis Napper, Ozark Gateway Executive Director Cathy Drew, Ms. Arkansas State Fair Queen Karsyn-Faith Thompson, Ozark Gateway President Crystal Crow, and Ozark Gateway Vice President Adam Davis at the Ozark Gateway Tourist Council Banquet on May 4 in Horseshoe Bend. Napper was the guest speaker during the event.

The Ozark Gateway Tourist Council Banquet was held May 4 in Horseshoe Bend, recognizing businesses and individuals across the eight-county region.

Executive Director Cathy Drew and President Crystal Crow presented the awards throughout the evening.

Crown Point RV Resort was selected as the “Member of the Year” for their growth and the addition of the largest aqua park in the state, with Pat Behrndt accepting.

Ozark Gateway President Crystal Crow (left) and Executive Director Cathy Drew (right) present the “Member of the Year” award to Pat Behrndt of Crown Point RV Resort in Horseshoe Bend.

The President’s Award was presented to Bobby and Amy Finster for their development of the area bike race, the Sandtown Shuffle.

“To me, it’s amazing how our counties, very specifically are really amazing in their ingenuity and creating things out of nothing for tourism in our area. Because we don’t have the big cities or universities. This award goes to a couple who recently created something for a very small town,” Crow said. “It is a bike race they have created, and it’s creating excitement, and hopefully, we’ll get more races in our region because of it.”

Ozark Gateway Executive Director Cathy Drew (right) presents Bobby and Amy Finster with the President’s Award during the Ozark Gateway Tourist Council Banquet.

The Tom Biggs Award, given to an individual recognized for outstanding service to tourism, was given to Hazelle Whited of Sharp County.

“She has worked really hard. She is very on fire about the solar eclipse and everything going on in the northern part of our region. We are really proud of everything she is doing,” Drew said.

Hazel Whited

Plaques were also presented to the Ozark Gateway Partners in Tourism: CherryRoad Media, Bank of Cave City, Citizens Bank, First Community Bank, Future Fuel, North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, and White River Now.

Ms. Arkansas State Fair Queen, Karsyn-Faith Thompson, spoke to the attendees and said she was thankful for the opportunity to speak and to see the role the eight-county region plays in promoting tourism.

“I would love to welcome the opportunity to appear at any festivals or events you may have come up in the next few months,” Thompson said.

Ozark Gateway Executive Director Cathy Drew presented Bobby and Amy Finster with the President’s Award during the Ozark Gateway Tourist Council Banquet

Vice President Adam Davis then introduced the speaker for the evening, Arkansas Tourism Director Travis Napper.

“I met Travis a few years ago. He had a trial by fire because he came in during the covid years. If you think starting a new job is rough, starting a new job during covid, when everything is banned, is a tough start. He jumped right in and, in my opinion, one of the biggest champions for tourism the state has ever seen,” Davis said

Napper said he began his position in April 2020, but when he initially agreed to accept the job, he didn’t know what covid was.

“During that time, they’d sent us home, but I was able to get out and explore,” Napper said.

Napper said the latest tourism numbers for 2021 showed they recovered, or exceeded, 2019 numbers in every area except jobs and employment.

Napper also noted Arkansas charted above other areas during the pandemic. Travel spending was up 13.5 percent, air passenger up 4.3, and demand was up 8.8 percent. Leisure and hospitality jobs were also up 4.7 percent, Napper said.

“We’ve returned to that $8 billion dollar travel spend that affects us all across the state and also gives all our residents about $750 each. We’re primarily funded through a two percent tourism tax. We’ve had 23 consecutive record months with that, and that is a true testament to everyone in the state,” Napper said.

Napper said some new activities across the state included the release of the Arkansas Waterfalls Guide, the kickoff of the centennial year for Arkansas State Parks and the launch of Club 52, the opening of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, the upcoming opening of the United States Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, and the National Cold War Museum in Blytheville.

Napper also briefly touched on the upcoming solar eclipse and made note Hardy is currently projected to be in 100 percent of the path of totality.

“Anywhere In the state, even if you’re not at 100 percent, you are at least at 85 percent in the path of totality,” Napper said. “It is incredible, and we’ve seen lots and lots of bookings in the state. Almost all of our state parks are booked up, especially in the path of totality. Hopefully, people will still be flooding into your communities.”

He also introduced a new marketing campaign with the slogan “Be near everything, but feel far away.”

“We talked a lot during covid and focused a lot on the outdoors, and we’re trying to tie it back into our urban experiences. That is something that we have, and that is the proximity with our urban areas and outdoor experiences, and that is something we’re going to try to focus on. In the natural state, you can escape to a setting that allows you to feel far away while still being close to food, arts, and culture.”

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