Louis Cella and Bill Ott will be inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during a noon luncheon on Monday, Feb. 28, during the 48th annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The conference will be held in Fayetteville Feb. 27 through March 1.
The Hall of Fame honor is presented annually to an individual or individuals who have been actively involved in Arkansas’s tourism industry for many years and who have made substantial contributions to the betterment of the industry as a whole.
Born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1965 to Charles and Susan Cella, Louis Cella graduated from St. Louis Country Day School in 1983. He went on to study higher education, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Washington and Lee University in 1987. He earned a law degree in 1990 from the University of Arkansas School of Law. In 1989, he began working in his family’s businesses, Southwestern Enterprises, Inc. and the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.
Over the years of his career he has held many positions within the companies as well as in the community, including: chairman of the board/president of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort and Southwestern Enterprises, Inc.; chairman of the board/director of The Muny (St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre); chairman of the board/director of Arkansas Cancer Research Center, now known as the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Institute; director of Myeloma Institute; Management Committee, Equibase Company; director of Thoroughbred Racing Association; director of Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau; director of National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame; member of The Jockey Club; and director of Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation.
Cella is the fourth generation of his family to head Oaklawn, which was founded in 1904. Cella was honored as the 2020 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sportsman of the Year for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was able to safely continue live racing while most of the rest of the country’s live racing industry shut down. Cella was also named Arkansas Press Association 2019 Headliner of the Year.
His contributions to Arkansas Tourism can be seen in his management of Oaklawn, one of the largest tourism attractions in the state with more than three million visitors each year. In addition to the annual direct taxes of more than $30 million to the state, city and county, the creation of the Oaklawn Foundation in 2006, an independent foundation benefiting health and education programs in the community, has given more than $10 million since its inception. All of these endeavors create a thriving community environment travelers can enjoy.
Oaklawn has evolved into a true destination resort. Guests visit Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort from throughout the United States to experience not only some of the best Thoroughbred horse racing in North America, but to enjoy concerts, gaming, the Astral Spa, numerous restaurants, bars and the newly renovated club Pop’s. During the warmer months, the resort offers an outdoor pool and bar surrounded by private cabanas, each with its own television and fridge. The 198-room hotel tower offers suites and standard rooms overlooking the racetrack or the Valley of the Vapors.
Cella’s hobbies include fishing, golf and hunting. He and his wife Rochelle live in Ladue, Mo., and have two children.
Born in Chicago in 1950 to William and Betty Yvonne Jester Ott, Bill Ott moved with his family in 1955 to Hot Springs, where he graduated high school. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1972 from the University of Central Arkansas, then known as Arkansas State Teachers College/State College of Arkansas. He served two years in the R.O.T.C. program.
In 1975, Ott began a career in communications, marketing and hospitality that would see him serve roles at iconic Arkansas destinations during his professional career. After starting as an announcer, he became the news and sports director for KBHS Radio. Next, he worked for Pittman & Associates as an account executive and creative marketing director on the accounts for the Hot Springs Advertising & Promotion Commission, Magic Springs Family Fun Park, Hot Springs Mountain Tower and Mid-America Museum. He went on to be the director of convention sales for the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Ott also served as the director of group sales, guest relations and media relations for Oaklawn Jockey Club before taking on that same role for The Bathhouse Show in Hot Springs, where he also performed.
Ott went on to make his mark at the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa and the 1905 Basin Park Hotel in Eureka Springs. He recently retired from his position as marketing and communications director of these historic hotels, a position he held for more than 20 years.
His additional contributions to the tourism industry are wide ranging, from serving as a hometown liaison to national and international press during the 1992 presidential campaign to working with the Miss Arkansas Pageant for 41 years. He has planned, coordinated and led numerous “Goodwill Tours” to key geographic markets to promote the state and attended national trade shows such as American Bus Association, Society of American Travel Writers, Travel South, Religious Conference Managers Association and more.
Ott has served on a long list of public and private committees and has held board roles over the years as well, including at: Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Club; Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club; Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce; Mayor’s Tourism Task Force; Eureka Springs Group Travel Committee; Historic Hotels of America; Eureka Springs Rotary Club; Eureka Christian Health Outreach; Eureka Springs City Council; Arkansas Municipal League’s Economic Development Advisory Council and the University of Central Arkansas’s Alumni Association.
Ott enjoys theater, writing poetry and plays, watching old black and white movies, making people laugh and Facetiming with family. But, most important to him is volunteering for charity organizations such as: the Pastoral Care Team at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which assists congregants in need of transportation and visitations; Answering The Call, which delivers groceries weekly to local area shut-ins; and Eureka Christian Health Outreach, a free health clinic for those who cannot afford Medicare and have no insurance.
Ott has received several awards during his distinguished career, including: the Hot Springs Community Service Award, Arkansas Parks and Tourism Outstanding Volunteer Service Award, Historic Hotels of America Ambassador of the Year, and First King of Eureka Springs’ Mardi Gras. Ott has also had the honor of serving as the official Santa Claus of Eureka Springs in 2009, 2018, 2019 and 2021. He has attended the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism for 44 consecutive years starting in 1976.
For information on the Hall of Fame Awards, contact KateLynn Parks at 501-682-1676.
For information on the 48th annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism or to register to attend, contact 501-682-1676 or visit www.arkansasgovernorsconference.com.
About Arkansas Tourism
Arkansas Tourism, a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, strives to expand the economic impact of travel and tourism in the state and enhance the quality of life for all Arkansans. The division manages 14 Arkansas Welcome Centers and employs more than 60 staff members across The Natural State. For more information, visit www.arkansas.com.