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Hot Springs tourism sales hit record following 'miserable' pandemic year

Hot Springs, one of the state's busiest tourism cities got hit hard with the pandemic, but one of the biggest moneymakers— the convention center— is bouncing back.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Hot Springs, one of the state's busiest tourism cities got hit hard with the pandemic, but one of the biggest moneymakers— the convention center— is bouncing back.

"The phone calls are starting to pick up,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs.

The high school state championship tournament was the last big event at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

A few games played just one day before canceling the tournament and shutting the center's doors for an entire year.

"The convention center was almost $2.3 million in revenue behind the year before. So, it was miserable,” said Arrison.

Brick House Grill just up the street relies on the convention center crowds.

"We lost quite a bit of business because of that,” said Zibach Kiddy, Brick House employee.

Employees there said the owner bought the restaurant because of its close proximity to the Convention Center, so of course, it's suffered until now, as things start to pick back up again.

"Fortunately, now that they are starting to open it back up, things are picking back up nicely,” said Kiddy.

Arrison said the city was about $800,000 under its tax collections from the year before. But now that restrictions are lifting, the convention center phone lines are ringing and organizations are starting to book the center, bringing event traffic back to Hot Springs.

"Since the last two weeks, we have hosted 5 graduations. We have three more between now and the end of this week,” said Arrison.

This March, Hot Springs tourism set a record, and the city is not looking back.

"Now looking at April collections, it looks like it could be a new record. It's going to be close. Business is back,” said Arrison.

The convention center is set to host the United Methodist Conference in June. That will be the first big convention with overnight stays since the pandemic started.