December 7, 2016 Edition

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Kane Webb (from left), executive director of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, visits with Jackie Snapp and Darrell Brown of Parks and Tourism.
TD Photo ~ John Bland

International buyers visit WR

John Bland

It was a rare experience late Thursday afternoon when a group of 15 international buyers converged for a tour in downtown Walnut Ridge. They were from Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, as well as Australia, Brazil and South Africa, along with a delegation from the Department of Arkansas Parks and Tourism.

They were in town as part of a three-day post familiarization music tour of Memphis, northeast Arkansas and Mississippi.

The musical-themed tour was called "Blues & Rock 'n' Roll with a Splash of Country!" The tour gives professionals in the tourism industry the opportunity to experience first-hand potential tourist destinations.

"They were thrilled with their time in your city," said Tracy Morales, group travel manager for Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. She explained that in some countries, people travel or go on "holiday" from two weeks to 30 days, so the opportunity for tourists' dollars is huge.

Arkansas is part of an organization called Travel South USA, consisting of 12 southern states that have formed a partnership. "We have an international showcase every year, starting the first Monday after Thanksgiving," Morales said. This year, international buyers from all over the world come to the showcase in Atlanta to meet, network and learn about travel destinations and attractions in the south. Hosted by 12 state tourism offices, the event attracts more than 100 international tour operators from over 20 countries.

The tour professionals then divide into smaller groups to tour specific areas of the south. One of those tours was the musical tour that included Walnut Ridge.

"Our goal is to let folks from all over the world know what Arkansas has to offer," Morales said.

The musical tour included a visit to the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess, Arkansas. The group came by bus late Thursday afternoon to Walnut Ridge, where "The Beatles stop in 1964 made a lasting impact," stated the itinerary.

Stops in Mississippi, included the B.B. King Museum, Delta Interpretive Center and the new Grammy Museum in Cleveland.

While in Memphis, the group toured Elvis' home, Graceland, and Sun Studios where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded their first rock 'n' roll records. Their last night was spent on Memphis' famed Beale Street.

WR stop

The Walnut Ridge visit began with the travelers' bus being stopped by Walnut Ridge Police officers and being cited for a made up violation. Morales said the tour buyers thought it was "hilarious, they felt really special."

Mayor Charles Snapp then boarded the bus and welcomed the group to Walnut Ridge. While here, the group visited The Beatles Argenta Collection of framed photographs at the Lawrence County Library, visited the Guitar Walk at Cavenaugh Park on Rock 'n' Roll Hwy. 67 and participated in a scavenger hunt at the Beatles Park sculpture. The winning team received T-shirts presented by Mayor Snapp.

At Imagine, the arts, crafts and gift store owned by Carrie Mae Snapp, the group enjoyed a variety of refreshments and browsing. Kane Webb, who is in his first year as executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, then joined the group and welcomed them to Arkansas and Walnut Ridge.

"This is my first visit to Walnut Ridge and Beatles Park," Webb said. "This is one of the many unique areas that we've got."

Carrie Mae then entertained the group with the story of the weekend that The Beatles landed in Walnut Ridge. "We had a better chance of Sputnik landing out there on Main Street ... than The Beatles landing in Walnut Ridge," she began. She noted that as a young teenager in 1964, she served as the local president of The Beatles Forevermore Fan Club.

"Carrie Mae did an outstanding job with her storytelling," Morales said. She also noted that everyone in Walnut Ridge was so welcoming.

Upon leaving, the buyers received guitar-string bracelets and boxes of edible goodies from Imagine, as well as T-shirts, Beatles koozies, postcards and copies of the "Ozark Gateway" tourism magazine from Mayor Snapp. The Walnut Ridge visit ended with a tour of Stewart Park to see the new lights of Christmas in the Park.

Others with Kane and Morales from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism were: John Gill, commissioner; Darrell Brown, administrative support specialist II; and Casey Crocker, staff photographer.

A similar group of international buyers visited Walnut Ridge in 2014, said Morales.

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