Numbers up for Fort Smith metro tourism industry in 2016

by Michael Tilley ( 159 views 

Fort Smith metro tourism numbers were trending positive in June, and Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Executive Director Maryl Koeth wasn’t sure if the trend would continue. It did.

Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren totaled $489,273 in 2016, up 7.58% compared to the $454,817 in 2015. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax. The city’s 2015 collections were up 5.75% compared to 2014.

“I think the increase was evidence of a more stable economy, with people traveling and spending those extra dollars eating out a little more often than had been the pattern for the last few years,” Koeth told Talk Business & Politics.

Koeth said the upcoming Spring Break travel period and summer travel season will need to be good if the 2016 trend continues in 2017. She is so far “cautiously optimistic” about 2017, but noted that January numbers were below those of January 2016.

“I think some of this decrease was the typical economic uncertainty by the consumers due to the change in national leadership. Again, we will know more about the trend for 2017 as we enter the spring and summer travel season,” Koeth said.

Fort Smith hospitality collections were $888,959 in 2016, up 11.14% compared with $799,821 in 2016. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging. The 2016 collections were up 4.98% compared to 2015.

Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said 2016 numbers were even better considering the 252 hotel rooms pulled out of the market for most of the year as Hilton rebranded and renovated the former Executive Inn in downtown Fort Smith. Now the DoubleTree by Hilton Fort Smith City Center, the hotel reopened in early November.

Legris said market occupancy increased 6.8% to 61.1%, and revenue per available room rose 10.1%. Legris is also optimistic about hotel and tourism industry growth in 2017.

“As for 2017, we will see yet another 90 to 100 rooms added at the Fairfield by Marriott project down on Phoenix, (just East of Slim Chickens) by summer, which will put our supply at an all time. Everyone hopes this will not impact rate integrity but the rooms in what we call the Airport corridor have all been performing very well,” Legris said.

Collections of Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax in the Fort Smith metro area showed healthy gains in the larger counties, and declines in the rural counties. Following are collection numbers, as provided by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, in Fort Smith area counties.
• Crawford: $210,050, up 12.21%
• Franklin: $24,934, down 37.55%
• Logan: $12,778, down 12.4%
• Scott: $7,451, down 9.81%
• Sebastian: $584,472, up 9.13%

Tourism industry employment in the metro area also grew in 2016. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that average monthly employment during the year was 9,500 jobs, up more than 9% compared to the 8,700 monthly average in 2015. Tourism industry jobs were an estimated 9,300 in December, below the 9,500 in November, but better than the 9,100 in December 2015. The metro area set a record for tourism industry employment of 9,800 in June. That level held in July and August.

By way of comparison, the 2016 Arkansas Tourism Ticker report shows a 4% gain in hospitality tax revenue among 17 Arkansas cities reviewed for the report, a 4.36% increase in collections of the state’s 2% tourism tax, and a 1.58% increase in Arkansas tourism industry jobs compared to 2015.