The Leo Rainey Appreciation Banquet and Annual Meeting hosted by the Arkansas Gateway Region was held May 12, at Wood's Riverbend Restaurant in Mammoth Spring.
The banquet was named for and honors the late, former tourism leader, Leo Rainey, who was instrumental in helping begin the association and saw it grow and prosper into a regional tourism association.
Charlie Morris, who serves as president of the Ozarks Gateway Tourism Council, was the master of ceremonies for the evening.
Ozark Gateway Executive Director Cathy Drew was also in attendance.
The guest speaker was Richard Davies, executive director of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Davies told the full house that the state has made a remarkable recovery from the devastating recent storms, floods and tornados. "We are open for business and are ready to welcome the spring and summer visitors to the state," Davies said.
He said Arkansans have a knack for bouncing back. "What we are trying to do is get the word out through Web sites and the media that Arkansas is open for business," he said.
Davies said the lakes, the rivers and everybody, is in businesses and this is a great time to be out in Arkansas. "People have pitched in like I have never seen to help their neighbors and try to get the word out," Davies said.
Davies said he hopes the rising gas prices will not hurt Arkansas. "In the past when gas prices rose, our state generally saw an increase in tourism and I hope the same will happen this tourism season," he said.
He said the Gateway organization and all the regional tourism organizations have done a great job from a grassroots effort. He said they are the ones out there in the front lines.
"They hear what folks say and they hear what the tourist say," he said.
Davies said the Gateway Region has done great in the past five years. "Expenditures in the eight county Ozark Gateway Region are up 31.8 percent. State taxes are up 23 percent. The two percent tourism tax is up 54 percent and that's up eight percent from last year. Gateway is doing well and all of you should be proud of it," he said.
Davis told the crowd that tourism is not an easy business. "Someone one time said 'they are not inventing anymore tourists, you have to steal them from somebody else.' There are some people out there traveling and we need them to come to Arkansas," he said. Last year over $219 million was generated in the region in tourism alone.
Several awards were presented at the banquet including the media award that went to Hometown Radio and was accepted by James Bragg. The Tom Biggs Award was given to Tom Pest with the Ozark Film Fest in Batesville.
Special presentations of Partners in Tourism awards were given to Areawide Media, accepted by general manager Janie Flynn; North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, accepted by Carolyn Lewis; Entergy, CenturyTel, W.R.D. Entertainment and FNBC.
The Ozark Gateway Tourist Council is made up of residents from Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp and Stone counties in northern Arkansas.
Mammoth Spring State Park also held Tourism Day May 12 at the park.
Park Welcome Center Director Adam Davis coordinated the event.
Mammoth Spring Mayor Jean Pace was on hand to greet visitors to the park.
A cake made by Regina Savage of Mammoth Spring and drinks were served.
Davies and Drew and several Ozark Gateway officials were on hand for the celebration at the park.