Speaking to hospitality leaders from across the state, Gov. Sarah Sanders reiterated her goal of doubling the state’s tourism industry over the next decade.
Sanders spoke to the Arkansas Hospitality Association at its annual convention and conference held in Little Rock on Tuesday (Sept. 19).
Armed with fresh numbers from the state’s tourism tax collections and new employment data, Sanders noted that tax dollars collected from travelers and tourists are up 9% year-over-year. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector has reached a record high in 2023.
“In my administration, we’re working hard to make sure that the hospitality industry is thriving and growing for generations to come,” she said “Just today, we announced that tourism tax revenue, a very good measure of industry spending, is up nearly 9% since this time last year. Tourism employment reached a record high earlier this year, and our goal is to grow it even more.”
Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax revenue between January and June was $12.74 million, up 8.9% compared with the $11.701 million in the same period of 2022. Revenue in each month of 2023 set a new year-over-year record.
Earlier this year, Gov. Sanders launched The Natural State Initiative, an effort led by her husband, Bryan, to grow Arkansas’ tourism industry through more outdoor recreation activity.
“Already that group has guided new legislation to improve facilities at state parks, cut red tape and park maintenance, invest in Main Street revitalization, and invite more entrepreneurs into our outdoor economy,” she said. “Our goal is to double the size of our tourism industry in the next decade. And while I know that is a huge target, I firmly believe not only do we have the people and the natural beauty, we have the capacity to get the job done.”
Employment in Arkansas’ leisure and hospitality industry, which reflects tourism-related employment, has been on the rise this year. Monthly average tourism sector jobs in January-June 2023 was 128,900, up 6.5% compared with 121,020 in the same period of 2022. During the first half of 2023, the sector reached record monthly employment of 131,800 in May.
“My administration is also tackling the ongoing problems facing both the hospitality industry and every other business in our state. We know that workforce is a huge issue. So I launched the workforce cabinet in my early days of the administration to bring an ‘all-of-government’ approach to the issue.
Sanders also noted new tax cuts from last week’s special session, adding that the reductions in personal and corporate tax rates will help entrepreneurs and working Arkansans.
“We’re working hard to pave the way for Arkansas business owners, but I’m under absolutely no illusion that government can somehow wave a magic wand and get the job done on our own. It takes each one of you to make our economy grow, to make our businesses and our state better and stronger. And that’s why I’m here today because I believe in the work you’re doing,” she said.