Last week I had the opportunity to travel back to Springdale, Arkansas, where we filmed last summer for Travels with Darley, for the 42nd annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. As the breakfast keynote speaker, I had the opportunity and challenge of speaking early in the morning to a group of over 550 tourism professionals and getting them energized for a day of networking and learning at the Team Coaches Breakfast.
But, I’ll take you back to the day before, when I got a greater taste of Springdale area and was able to get more involved with the conference and attendees at the auction. A silent auction is a great way to raise money for a good cause and this conference held both a silent and live auction. I’m always enamored by auctioneers, who with great speed and rhythm almost sing their auction chant, which I just discovered is actually a thing.
After enjoying a bit of the live auction festivities, I took a stroll around the silent auction, where two particular items caught my eye. One was an amazing set for outdoor grilling that might have been just too big to transport back to my home on the East Coast and the other, a striking stuffed tiger and her cub. Yes, it might be for kids, but I do love cats and the story behind it made me want to bid on it even more.
The stuffed tiger was donated by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, whose mission is to serve as a lifetime refuge for abandoned, abused, and neglected “Big Cats” with emphasis on Tigers, Lions, Leopards and Cougars. As an animal lover in general and in particular horses, dogs and cats, this item struck a cord. I bid and bid again, securing this prize and at the same time supporting the Arkansas Tourism Development Foundation scholarship program.
The auction also gave me an opportunity to learn about more of the authentic and quirky attractions in the state of Arkansas, including the big cat refuge, an October blues festival in Helena, and a state park where you can search for diamonds and keep what you find. I would find another quirky attraction at dinner that evening at Penguin Ed’s. Not only can you order classic BBQ ribs and pulled pork, but you can order it on a big red, retro telephone from your booth. Sure, your waiter may be in your sightline, picking up the other line in the kitchen, but it’s a funky, memorable experience. The baked beans and mac and cheese are also really good.
So with a belly full of BBQ and a brand new (stuffed) tiger, I was ready to take on the next morning’s speech. That’s where the baseball comes into play. Northwest Arkansas is home to one of only 30 Class AA Minor League Baseball teams in the USA, the Arkansas Naturals, so it was fitting that the conference had a baseball theme. At the Coaches Breakfast, I was able to coach folks on working with local people to tell their own personal and authentic stories about their destination, as well as give tips on how destinations can work with the media to make the most of their social, TV and digital video projects.
From my work filming and producing the Emmy-winning Equitrekking series on PBS and now Travels with Darley, I get the chance to travel the US and world meeting wonderful locals in every location. It’s these locals that are the best people to share their home area, which is a hallmark of both of my series.
One of the videos of my travels in Arkansas, where a local serves as my guide to Cycle the Razorback Greenway Trail by TravelswithDarley
The event was a fun trip back to Arkansas and a great way for me to also learn more about issues surrounding travel and tourism on the local, national and global level. It always feels good to know that through your own travels, you can support small businesses and in turn help families and communities around the world.