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FAMs to Showcase Little Rock

One of the pleasures of being a meeting planner is that you get to visit interesting cities and be escorted to all the key attractions they offer. Familiarization, or FAM, tours are also a great way for convention and visitors bureaus to show groups the best of their cities.

Those who attend the sixth annual Small Market Meetings Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, September 27-29 can do FAM tours. Some meeting planners schedule them just before or after a conference. The extra time devoted to sightseeing and experiencing an area gives them greater knowledge about a community’s strengths.

SMM Conference attendees will include meeting planners who work for corporations and associations or who help with site selections and logistics. Hotels and other industry suppliers send staff to meet those planners in hopes of winning new business.

The conference will unfold in the downtown Statehouse Convention Center, which is attached to the official conference hotel.

“The Little Rock Marriott just underwent an $18 million renovation in the last two years,” said Jennifer Jones, sales manager for the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was a Peabody hotel the last time Small Market Meetings was here. It was an older, established boutique hotel. Now, the Marriott name brings more attention to Little Rock. It’s a more modern facility.”

Some call Little Rock one of the South’s best-kept secrets. Its downtown, right on the banks of the Arkansas River, is seeing a revival. All within a compact area, visitors can stay at one of several premier hotels and take a trolley a few blocks to the River Market District to experience entertainment, casual or fine dining, unique shopping, museums and other cultural delights. Ottenheimer Market Hall alone has a dozen shops inside it.

Many people enjoy Riverfront Park, an 11-block oasis with pavilions that are the scene of festivals and live music in warm weather. Across the river in North Little Rock are popular destinations like the 18,000-seat Verizon Arena and Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the AA-level Arkansas Travelers baseball team.

The old Arkansas Statehouse, now a museum, is an interesting downtown stop. So, too, is the modern state Capitol, a short distance away. Many visitors want to see one of the few presidential libraries in the nation. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum houses fascinating and historic memorabilia from President Bill Clinton’s two terms in the White House.

Practically next door to the presidential center is Heifer International, a remarkable charity that helps people purchase and donate animals to a needy individual, family or village in a Third World country. Water buffalo, goats, cows, ducks, llamas and pigs are just some of the choices. The recipient is later expected to “pay it forward” to sustain the gift. A tour of Heifer Village is recommended.

“We encourage everyone to attend Small Market Meetings Conference. We promise they’ll have a great time,” said Alan Sims, vice president of sales for the Little Rock CVB. “They’re going to be surprised by Little Rock and leave with something unexpected. We think they’ll want to come back.”

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Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.