Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire and presented by Fort Smith-based Benefit Bank. Other supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
One month does not make a trend, but January hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith and Van Buren took a turn higher in January after both cities reported less than impressive collections in 2013.
January hospitality tax collections in Van Buren were $33,253, up 3.6% compared to January 2013.
Collections in Van Buren during 2013 totaled $423,221.83, remarkably close to the $423,222.91 during 2012. December collections were $32,071, down 1.2% from the $32,451 in December 2012. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax.
The increase in Van Buren comes with mixed emotions for Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Commission.
During 2012, Van Buren hospitality tax collections totaled $425,554, up 5.2% compared to the 2011 collections. Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren during 2011 totaled $429,561, up 2.34% compared to 2010. The 2011 collections ended a two-year skid in Van Buren.
January hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith totaled $56,025, up 13% compared to January 2013. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging.
Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said much of the growth was attributed to a Baldor corporate meeting and a multi-state volleyball tournament sponsored by Fort Smith Juniors. Legris said January business was up 43% at the Courtyard by Marriott and the Holiday Inn City Center saw a 38% jump in January sales.
Collections in Fort Smith during 2013 totaled $731,057, down 2% compared to the same period in 2012. The gap in collections improved through the year with first quarter collections were down more than 6% compared to the 2012 quarter. For the fourth quarter, collections were up 0.62% compared to the 2012 quarter.
During 2012, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections totaled $746,182, up 5.37% compared to the 2011 period. The 2011 collections were up 4.3% compared to 2010.
Revenue from Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax set a record in 2013 by reaching $12.716 million, and the state’s tourism chief is predicting that 2014 could be even better for Arkansas’ tourism and travel sector.
The 2013 collections were up 2.5% compared to the $12.405 million in 2012, and well ahead of the $11.378 million slump in 2009 when national economic conditions proved tough on Arkansas’ tourism industry.
Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department, said the recent spell of cold weather around the country may result in people wanting to get outdoors when temperatures rise. Combine that with what Davies said is an improving consumer confidence, and the state could see more travelers in 2014.
Arkansas’ tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 109,100 during January, up from a revised 106,900 during December, and above the 104,400 during January 2013. The January employment tally sets a new record for the sector. The number is subject to revision in future reports.