The Ozark Gateway Tourist Council (OGTC) held their annual tourism appreciation banquet at the Batesville Recreation Center on Friday, April 27.
Guest speaker David Bazzel spoke of the many unique attractions the area has to promote tourism and inspired attendees to be innovative about creating and finding new ways to entice visitors, according to a news release from the council.
The event featured the presentation of this year’s local tourism finalists and award winners “…recognizing the outstanding efforts of businesses, media, and individuals to promote tourism in the region,” the release stated.
The Partners in Tourism awards are given to regional businesses that go above and beyond in helping OGTC promote the region. The 2018 Partners in Tourism are: North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, First Community Bank, FutureFuel, Areawide Media, Citizens Bank, and W.R.D. Entertainment.
The Tom Biggs Award is named after the late Tom Biggs, a Sharp County native who retired in Batesville. Tom sold over 100 memberships in Independence County for OGTC and then traveled to other counties to help with their sales each year. OGTC honors his memory with the annual “Tom Biggs Award” for outstanding service to tourism. This year’s Tom Biggs Award Finalists included: Bob Carius, Main Street Batesville; Henry Boyce, Depot Days, Newport; and Fredamae Gamblin, Hardy A&PT.
The award went to Henry Boyce, who manages the 220-year-old heritage festival, Depot Days, dedicated to the preservation of the early history of rock ‘n’ roll in Jackson County as well as the Rock ‘n Roll Highway 67 Museum located in Newport.
The 2018 Volunteer Award was given to Ginger and Paul Bauer. Ginger and her husband work many hours traveling the region, and Ginger is the OGTC blogger.
Two President’s Awards were presented this year and Renee Janes received the first honor of the night.
“Renee Janes does so much for our region. She is constantly on the move, attending events, reviewing attractions and writing stories. She always has a smile on her face and really helps promote our area,” said Adam Davis, president of the OGTC board.
The second President’s Award was given to Kyle Christopher with the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I was happy to present the President’s Award to Kyle. He has infectious enthusiasm and an untiring work ethic. His work in Batesville and Independence County has really helped boost tourism. He was instrumental in creating the ‘Experience Independence’ branding and has worked with other tourism leaders to create a lot of momentum in our region,” said Davis.
The annual Media Award recognizes contributions to area tourism through public media and is named after the late Wilson Powell, the first secretary/treasurer of the Gateway Board, a business manager and staff newsman for the Batesville Guard. Powell wrote most of the Gateway features promoting the region during his 25-year service to the Council Board. The finalists for the Wilson Powell Media Support Award winner were: White River Current, Calico Rock; K Kountry Radio, Thayer and the Villager Journal, Salem. The Villager Journal was named the 2018 Wilson Powell Media Support of the Year.
In addition to the annual awards, the Council added a new award this year, Member of the Year. The inaugural Ozark Gateway Region Member of the Year was given to the Melba Theater, recognizing their dedication for reviving the Melba and for working tirelessly to attract new visitors to the area.
Davis, who served as president of the board from 2012-2018, was also recognized at the event. “We’ve been so honored to have him serve the region for the past six years. We’ve accomplished so much with his leadership. His energy and love for our Ozarks are contagious. I look forward to having him serve on the board for many years to come. He is a great mentor,” said Crystal Crow, who will assume the role of president.
Ozark Gateway is a non-profit regional tourism association promoting Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp and Stone counties in North Central Arkansas. Their website is ozarkgateway.com.