A Scottish couple traveling through the United States received a surprise welcome in Arkansas on Thursday as part of National Travel and Tourism Week.
Andy and Sandra Stewart of Aberdeen, Scotland, have visited the United States for each of the past 20 years with a goal of visiting all 50 states.
With proclamations of their visit from the mayors of Fort Smith and Van Buren, the Stewarts’ visit to Arkansas — No. 40 in their list of states visited — comes with a few special souvenirs.
Fort Smith Mayor George McGill and Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst presented special proclamations to the Stewarts, and the respective Advertising and Promotion Commissions provided a gift basket with items from both cities.
Each year, the cities of Fort Smith and Van Buren join forces to help celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week with a greeting at the Interstate 40 Arkansas Welcome Center in Dora.Last year, the Alvarados, a family from Phoenix traveling across the country, were chosen. In addition to the proclamations and invitations to upcoming events by each mayor, the Stewarts also received “grab bags” with Arkansas-made products from Kopper- Kettle Candies of Fort Smith and Van Buren, Cavender’s Greek Seasoning from Harrison, and Riceland rice from Stuttgart.
Kevin Billings, the local Arkansas Welcome Center manager, said the Stewarts were surprised and pleased with the kind gestures show to them.
“One thing we’ve noticed that echos in their travels of the U.S. is the friendliness of everyone, and there are so many more similarities than differences,” Billings said. “A simple smile with a greeting … everyone responds to that.”
Billings said the Stewarts liked to stop at as many welcome centers as they can. And they visited Fort Smith the day before.
“I think their visit reiterated the view they had coming in to the United States, not just in Arkansas but all the states,” Billings added.
Billings has been the local Arkansas Welcome Center manager for six years, following stints as an Arkansas State Park Ranger at Bull Shoals, Lake Ouachita and Pinnacle Mountain state parks.
Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotions Commission, echoed Billings’ statement about the Stewarts’ perception of the United States.
“The Stewarts said what is most notable throughout their travels has been the friendliness of the people they meet,” Legris said.
The couple spent the night in Fort Smith on Wednesday and were bound for Tulsa, then Dallas to catch a flight back home. Legris said that was their plans until they learned about the Historic Chaffee Barber Shop. Before they left for Oklahoma, the Stewarts told Legris they planned to “double back” for a visit to where Elvis got his famous GI haircut.
In addition to the mayors, the A&P members, Billings and his staff, the welcoming committee also included Ron Gossage, a board member of the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission.
The Stewarts typically visit the states during Memorial Day weekend, but promised a return trip in the future to see the Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith.
Arkansas Welcome Centers have hosted events throughout the week “to showcase how tourism builds communities and enhances lives throughout Arkansas and the U.S,” the Department of Parks and Tourism states. This year’s theme has been “Travel Matters” with the hashtag #nttw19 on social media.