Recently, I spoke to the annual Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism. Here, travel and tourism professionals gather each year to welcome spring and the start of the tourism season in Arkansas. Representatives of destinations and attractions from all four corners of Arkansas come together with small-business owners, chambers of commerce, marketing groups and government agencies to increase and enhance the tourism economy of our State.
Our hospitality sector keeps about 100,000 Arkansans gainfully employed. From greeting visitors at one of our welcome centers to hosting guests at a bed and breakfast or entertaining patrons of our museums and music festivals, these professionals are the driving force of the tourism industry.
Travel and tourism have long been important components of Arkansas's economy. They rank among our top industries for the amount of revenue they generate. Arkansas's scenic diversity and plentiful cultural offerings bring travelers to both our urban and rural areas, supporting local economies as well. The recession was rough on the industry, but it is showing strong signs of recovery. Last year, travelers to Arkansas spent nearly $5.5 billion, including $285 million in state taxes, more revenue than we saw the year before. In fact, the last six months of 2010 showed a great deal more growth than the first half of the year, setting the stage for greater growth this year.
Most visitors come from our neighboring states. There are 40 million people living within 400 miles of Arkansas, and many of their state economies are starting to see recovery, as well. Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Houston have all shown resilience in the current economy, and many visitors to Arkansas come from these cities.
To help spur increased travel to Arkansas, new offerings are gearing up to enrich the numerous outdoor, cultural and recreational experiences our State offers. This year marks the beginning of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, and a variety of opportunities will be available to experience Arkansas history. This fall, the spectacular Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will begin drawing visitors from around the world to view its collection. These and other new travel destinations will supplement our system of 52 state parks, our long tradition of hunting and fishing, our rich and diverse artistic community and our scenic beauty.
While Arkansas has many cultural and natural treasures, our greatest resource is our people. Our travel and tourism professionals work every day to make sure that visitors can discover our caring and friendly hospitality and experience the abundance of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Travel consumers want uniquely authentic experiences, good values, and exceptional hosts. With your help, we can make sure they find all of this and more in Arkansas. First-time visitors often leave here with a far brighter impression of our state than when they arrived. We want them to continue spreading the word far and wide of the beauty and hospitality to be found in our State.