Dalaney Thomas named tourism director; tourism in state a $9.2 billion industry in 2022

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,555 views 

Gov. Sarah Sanders has appointed Dalaney Thomas to be the director of tourism at the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism. Thomas previously worked at Arkansas-based ad agency CJRW where she was account manager for Arkansas Tourism and Oaklawn for almost nine years.

“I’m proud to announce that Dalaney Thomas will serve as Arkansas’ newest Director of Tourism. Dalaney has spent nearly a decade working with Arkansas Tourism from the outside, brainstorming new ideas to get the word out about our state. She’s spearheaded nationwide marketing campaigns and has the creative chops we’ll need to compete with other states,” Sanders said in a Monday (Oct. 23) announcement. “Dalaney joins an incredible team that is going to help us take our state to the next level. This administration is making sweeping reforms to make our outdoor spaces even better.”

In her role at CJRW, Thomas managed the creation and implementation of campaigns, paid media strategies, nationwide public relations endeavors, social media content strategies, partnerships, and cooperative initiatives.

“I love Arkansas and am honored and humbled to serve as Director of Tourism,” Thomas said. “Travelers are seeking authentic experiences, and we have that in abundance in Arkansas. Tourism is Arkansas’ second-largest industry and I look forward to helping grow that economy by encouraging continuous product development and through expanding our reach into new markets, thereby introducing more people to our wonderful Natural State. I want to thank Governor Sanders and Secretary [Shea] Lewis for their confidence in me. I’m ready to get to work.”

Delaney Thomas, Arkansas Tourism Director.

Thomas will oversee an economic sector that grew mightily last year, according to a report released Monday. Arkansas Tourism is now a $9.2 billion industry, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism.

The study, conducted by Tourism Economics with input from DK Shifflet, found that 48.3 million people visited Arkansas in  2022, up 15.4% from 41.2 million visitors in 2021. Those additional visitors spent another $1.2 billion from the 2021 figures.

“We can, with great confidence, say that Arkansas’ tourism industry has fully recovered – and then some – from setbacks of the COVID pandemic,” said Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

The highest spend categories by visitors in 2022 were in transportation, food, and lodging. According to the study, lodging accounted for the largest increase in overall visitor spending up 23% from 2021.

“The lodging numbers are very important because the greatest bulk of 2% Tourism Reinvestment Tax dollars are generated by our lodging partners,” Lewis said. “Those dollars are almost entirely paid by out-of-state visitors and are used to fund our very successful marketing efforts.”

The state’s 2% tourism sales tax increased by 15.8% last year, generating $24.3 million. Overall, $752 million in tax receipts from visitors were collected, which is a 15.2% increase. Of the total, $536 million were for state taxes, while the remaining $216 million went into local coffers.

The study stated that each Arkansas household would need to pay an additional $866 annually to replace visitor-generated taxes received by the state of Arkansas and local municipalities. The Arkansas Tourism industry also supported 68,098 jobs, a 6% increase from 2021, with wages topping $2.1 billion. For perspective, tourism supports 3.9% of all jobs in Arkansas.

The report also provided insight into the indirect and induced impacts of tourism activity in Arkansas. Indirect impact, which is also known as the supply-chain effect, refers to the purchase of goods and services purchased by industry operators. Induced impact is generated when tourism industry employees spend their wages in the local economy. Together, the indirect and induced impact was $6.5 billion.

When all is considered, tourism’s impact on Arkansas’ economy was $15.7 billion in 2022, its total employment was 97,839 jobs, and state and local taxes exceeded $1 billion.

“We are quite pleased with the results of the 2022 economic impact study,” Lewis said. “These outstanding numbers are a direct result of our renewed emphasis on growing our outdoor recreational economy, whether it be various forms of biking, climbing, watersports, hunting and fishing. Our marketing message is effective, and we are taking that message into new markets and effectively attracting new visitors who can enjoy [Arkansas] all year long.”