Arkansas Tourism Ticker: Hospitality Sector Sets Records In First Half Of 2015

by The City Wire Staff ([email protected]) 125 views 

Editor’s note: The Arkansas Tourism Ticker is sponsored by the Arkansas Hospitality Association.

The first half of 2015 continues to show that a resurgent Arkansas tourism economy during 2014 wasn’t an anomaly. Hospitality tax collections continue to set records, and tourism sector employment is on average up 6,570 jobs a month compared to the first half of 2014.

The Arkansas Tourism Ticker shows that the three key measurements of Arkansas’ leisure and hospitality sector between January and June posted healthy gains over the same period in 2014. The Ticker is managed by The City Wire, and uses the following three measurements to review the health of the state’s tourism industry. The Arkansas Tourism Ticker is published every two months, or six times a year.

• Hospitality tax collections – prepared food tax and lodging tax – of 17 Arkansas cities (cities listed below along with collections for each city);
• Tourism sector employment numbers as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; and
• Collections of Arkansas’ 2% statewide tourism tax.

Results for the January-June ticker report are:

• +5.78%  
Gain in combined January-June hospitality tax collections in 17 Arkansas cities compared to the same period in 2014;

• +6.22%
  January-June gain in Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax compared to the same period in 2014; and

• +6.14%
  Increase in average Arkansas tourism industry jobs during January and June compared to January-June 2014.

The inaugural Ticker report showed that 2014 hospitality tax revenue in the cities was up 3.7% over 2013; Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax revenue in 2014 was up 7.48% compared to 2013; and jobs in the state’s travel and tourism sector were up 6.5% in 2014 compared to 2013.

Montine McNulty, director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said the numbers indicate that economic activity surrounding travel and tourism is a key part of the state’s economy.

“I think it says travel and tourism will lead the economy, and lead the job market, too,” McNulty said.

She said more “digital activity” is being used by tourism promotion groups, restaurants, hotels and others to promote Arkansas and provide customer service to those who visit the state. She also said falling gas prices – now below $2 a gallon in much of the state – will provide more discretionary income for consumers.

“If things in the (national) economy stay healthy, I think we will do just fine. A lot of what happens in our industry depends on discretionary income, and hopefully things are going to stay positive,” McNulty said.

The combined hospitality tax collections in the 17 cities totaled $21.159 million in January-June, up 5.78% compared to January-June 2014.

Restaurant (prepared food tax) tax collections among the 17 cities totaled $15.864 million in January and June, up 5.77% compared to the $14.998 million in January-June 2014.

Hotel tax collections among the 17 cities totaled $5.295 million in the January-June period, up 5.84% compared to the $5.002 million during the same period of 2014.

Gains among the 17 cities during the six-month period ranged from 21.07% in Springdale to 0.31% in Texarkana. During the January-June period, none of the 17 cities surveyed for the Arkansas Tourism Ticker posted a year-over-year decline in collections.

Collections of Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax in January and June totaled $7.191 million, up 6.22% compared to the $6.769 million in January-June of 2014. Collections for the first four months of 2015 set a new record for that month. The May tally missed setting a new record by $120. June collections of $1.619 million was up 9.02% and also set a new record for the month.

The 2% tourism tax in 2014 totaled $13.677 million, up 7.48% compared to the $12.716 million collected in 2013. The 2014 tally sets a new record for the tax. Following are the past five years of 2% tax collections.

2014: $13.677 million
2013: $12.716 million
2012: $12.404 million
2011: $12.025 million
2010: $11.492 million

The monthly jobs average in the travel and tourism sector during January and June was 113,500, up 6.14% compared to an average of 106,930 during the first six months of 2014.

Travel and tourism sector employment ranged from a low of 112,100 in January to a high of 114,800 in February. The February level, if not revised, set a new record for the sector.

Travel and tourism sector employment during the first four months of 2014 ranged from a 106,200 low in January to a high of 107,500 in May and June.

Job growth in the sector has been significant during the past 10 years. June employment of 113,100 is up 19.9% compared to June 2005 employment of 94,300.

Of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides tourism employment data on five. The Fort Smith and Memphis-West Memphis areas were the only metro areas to see travel and tourism sector employment declines in the January-June period. Following are comparisons of the monthly employment averages in the January-June period.

Northwest Arkansas
Jan.-June 2015: 22,210
Jan.-June 2014: 21,660
Jan.-June 2010: 17,780

Fort Smith
Jan.-June 2015: 8,830
Jan.-June 2014: 9,050
Jan.-June 2010: 8,380

Central Arkansas (Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway)
Jan.-June 2015: 33,300
Jan.-June 2014: 31,900
Jan.-June 2010: 29,250

Memphis-West Memphis
Jan.-June 2015: 63,600
Jan.-June 2014: 65,030
Jan.-June 2010: 64,680

Texarkana (Arkansas-Texas)
Jan.-June 2015: 6,360
Jan.-June 2014: 6,080
Jan.-June 2010: 5,600

Arkansas’ tourism industry is an important economic engine for the state, and is often cited as Arkansas’ second largest industry – behind agriculture.

There are many reports and economic indices to measure several areas of the the state’s economy. The City Wire issues a monthly housing report (The Arkansas Home Sales Report). The University of Arkansas issues a quarterly report on economic activity, and has published reports on the economic impact of the Fayetteville Shale Play. There are reports to measure public opinion on various social issues.

But there has not been an independent report looking at the health of the state’s tourism sector. Therefore, The City Wire decided to work with officials in the state’s travel and tourism sector to capture some indication of the relative health of the industry.