Hospitality tax collections in the two largest cities in the Fort Smith region are up more than 6% year-to-date, but tourism officials are unsure what the 2013 economy will bring.
Food and lodging tax collections in Van Buren and Fort Smith are up year-to-date 6.35% and 5.8%, respectively. However, employment in the region’s tourism industry remains flat.
September hospitality tax collections in Van Buren were $32,987, up 3.7% over September 2011. The September increase follows an August in which collections were up 6.5%.
For the first nine months of 2012, tourism tax collections in Van Buren totaled $357,389, up 6.1% compared to the $336,733 in the 2011 period. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax.
“Even though revenue was up year over year, we saw a slight slowdown in spending for the month of September. Some of this slowdown can be attributed to back to school and fewer special events in the area. September is traditionally a slower revenue month for the hospitality industry,” said explained Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Commission.
Koeth also said the business and tourism traveler remains uncertain about the health of the national economy.
“The slow recovery that we have been seeing in 2012 is fragile. The good news is it is still an upward trend,” she said.
Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren during 2011 totaled $429,561, up 2.34% compared to 2010. The 2011 collections end a two-year skid in Van Buren.
September hospitality collections in Fort Smith totaled $63,914, up 5.4% compared to September 2011. In August, the city’s hospitality tax collection was down 1.1% compared to July 2011. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging.
For the first nine months of 2012, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections totaled $577,124, up 6.3% compared to $542,806 in the same 2011 period.
“We’re pleased to see this kind of performance in a national election year. We typically see much more conservative spending including travel in an election year but that has not been the case. As most everyone, we’re cautious to see what may happen with the economy after the first of the year,” said Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Legris said the tourism industry has “outperformed the national economy and we (Fort Smith CVB) have budgeted 2013 with a 3% increase in collections.”
Hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith totaled $708,141 during 2011, up 4.3% compared to the 2010 period. It was the second consecutive year for a hospitality tax collection gain in Fort Smith.
TOURISM EMPLOYMENT, STATE COLLECTIONS
Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 8,600 during September, down from 8,700 in September and above the 8,500 in September 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in September 2008..
Average monthly employment in the sector is on a two-year decline. During 2007, 2008 and 2009, the average monthly employment was 9,300. That fell to 8,700 during 2010 and 8,500 during 2011.
August collections of Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax was $1.105 million, below the $1.145 million compared to September 2011. August marked the third consecutive month of declines in the collection. The collections were up each month between January and May.
For the first eight months of 2012, the 2% statewide tourism tax has generated $8.552 million, up 3.5% compared to the 2011 period. Collection of the statewide tax was $12.025 million during 2011, up 4.6% compared to $11.492 million during 2010.
Arkansas’ tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 103,500 during September, unchanged compared to September and ahead of the 97,400 during September 2011.