The Fort Smith metro tourism and travel sector has been a consistent bright spot in recent years, with Van Buren hospitality tax collections up almost 9% for the first six months of 2016, and the Fort Smith hotel tax revenue up a little over 9%.
Food and hotel tax revenue in Van Buren totaled $246,858 between January and June, up 8.88% compared to the same period in 2015. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax. For all of 2015 the city collected $454,817 in hospitality tax revenue, up 5.75% compared to 2014.
The state’s 2% tourism tax generated $104,173 in Crawford County in the first half of 2016, up 14.58% compared to the same period in 2015. Crawford County ranked 16th among Arkansas’ 75 counties in revenue generated from the 2% statewide tourism tax. Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax generated $7.241 million in January-June 2016, up 4.15% over the $7.191 million in the same period of 2015. Collections have set a record in 2016 for each month but March.
“We had a good vacation travel season this year with numbers up across lodging and restaurants,” said Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Commission. “I think, good weather coupled with low gas prices helped Van Buren with leisure travel this summer.”
Fort Smith’s hotel tax generated $444,599 in the first six months of 2016, up 9.15% compared to the $407,304 collected in the same period of 2015. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging. The city collected $799,821 in hotel tax revenue in 2015, up 4.98% compared to 2014.
Sebastian County produced $297,087 in the January-June period from the state’s 2% tourism tax, up 5.85%. The county ranked 6th among the 75 counties. Pulaski County ranked first with $1.681 million collected between January and June, up 5.29%.
Travel and tourism jobs are holding steady. Average Fort Smith metro monthly employment in the first six months was 9,400, up 1.6% compared to the six-month average in 2015, and up 12.17% compared to the six-month average in 2010. Monthly average tourism and travel jobs statewide in January-June was 115,400, up 4.62% compared to the 110,300 during the same period of 2015.
Koeth is not sure if the numbers will hold up in the back half of 2016. She said recent discussions with those in the industry suggest that 2016 may not be as robust as 2015.
“At the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission meeting last week several hotel and resort owners were saying they saw an atypical decline in July business along with the expected slowdown in August. The owners agreed that the unexpected July decline and a much better than average 2015 travel season will cause their numbers to be somewhat flat for 2016,” she told Talk Business & Politics.
She also said an earlier start to the school year could hurt the August numbers.
“The school start date of August 15th fell on a Monday this year, so there was one less family travel week before school starting. … I think the back to school planning for families may have started a week or so earlier this year and our July and August numbers may reflect that,” Koeth said.