Employing more than 100,000 people, travel tourism is the No. 2 industry in the state of Arkansas with an annual economic impact of $7.6 billion.
The Arkansas Hospitality Association (AHA) is the voice of the lodging, restaurant and tourism industries in Arkansas. The association functions as an umbrella organization for the Arkansas Lodging Association, the Arkansas Restaurant Association and the Arkansas Travel Council. Its members include restaurants, bars, hotels, lodges, resorts and other businesses related to travel, tourism and entertainment.
As of April 2020, it has about 1,100 members. Montine McNulty has served as CEO of AHA since 1996.
“We are in business to help our members in travel and tourism to succeed,” McNulty said. “We’re in business not to promote them or bring business to their door. We’re designed to help them with regulatory issues, with legislation, with governmental affairs. They have enough to do with running a business that they need help sometimes understanding the regulatory environment.”
AHA services include workforce resources, events, training, certification, advocacy and more to ensure that those working in travel and tourism sectors have a voice and can count on someone fighting on their behalf for positive change and industry advancement.
AHA’s annual Vendor Showcase and Convention remains scheduled for Sept.15-16 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. The event includes an awards ceremony and hospitality games, like bartending and bed-making competitions. Food from an Iron Chef competition is available for public sampling.
But with things still uncertain due to the coronavirus, this year’s convention is not set in stone.
“We don’t know yet,” McNulty said. “We haven’t signed a contract yet with the convention.”
The virus is also affecting many other aspects of the work that McNulty and other AHA members do on a daily basis.
“The thing that is a huge issue right now is what’s going on with the shutdown of business,” McNulty said. “We’ve worked day and night on taking care of the industry through this and helping them access information about unemployment issues, about what’s available in the financial categories like the federal program that was announced. We’ve been hosting webinars for our members and having people address the issues of interest to them. That is the major thing going on now.”
While it may be too soon to see the effects of COVID-19 on the industry as a whole, AHA believes it’s never too soon to start investing in their future employees.
“We have a high-school program called ProStart with about 500 students around the state in that,” McNulty said. “We’re just a resource for the teachers, and we also try to hook them up with the industry to enrich the classrooms.”
AHA also puts on a state competition — a culinary competition and a restaurant-management competition. The two winning teams are sent to the national competition in Washington, D.C.
The organization also offers scholarships in the spring each year.
“To date, we have awarded about $722,000 in scholarships to Arkansas students interested in hospitality as a career,” McNulty said.
Of all the benefits and services offered by AHA, McNulty said representation is most important.
“There are so many things that affect business today and [employers] are too busy running their businesses to spend time on it, so we do that on their behalf,” McNulty said. “The greatest thing about our industry is it’s big and adds so much quality of life to our state. We want to grow as an industry, and we want our businesses to flourish, and that’s what our association is about.”
The Association Roundup is a look at the organizations representing Arkansas industry.