A stable part of the Fort Smith regional economy continues to be the hospitality sector, with April collections in Van Buren and Fort Smith up 7.2% and 5%, respectively.
Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren totaled $35,662 in May, up 7.27% compared to the $33,244 during May 2011. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax.
For the first four months of 2012, Van Buren hospitality tax collections totaled $174,398, up 8.26% compared to the 2011 period. The year-to-date gain through April is down from 9.8% through the first three months.
“Gas prices are holding steady and may be down slightly which is helping get people out and traveling,” said Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotions Commission. “I think the great weather is a factor also. I anticipate May numbers will reflect the continued improvement over last year.”
Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren during 2011 totaled $429,561, up 2.34% compared to 2010. The 2011 collections end a two-year skid in Van Buren.
Hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith during May totaled $60,658, up 5% compared to May 2011. For the first four months of 2012, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections totaled $244,040, up 11.26% compared to the 2011 period. The year-to-date gain through April is down from 13% through the first three months. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging.
Hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith totaled $708,141 during 2011, up 4.3% compared to the 2010 period. It was the second consecutive year for a hospitality tax collection gain in Fort Smith.
Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said responses to advertising are up 52% between January and April.
“Our messages are also trying to drive people to our website and it is at 175,536 total web hits January through April. This is up 40% from the same period the previous year,” Legris said in a note.
Legris has also said the return of three Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions during the summer will help boost tourism numbers.
An estimated 12,000 people are expected to attend three weekends — June 29-July 1, July 6-8, and July 20-22 — of conferences at the Fort Smith Convention Center. It is the fourth consecutive year the group has meet in Fort Smith.
The Fort Smith site is the meeting place for delegates from 61 cities in Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and southwest Missouri, according to the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jehovah’s Witnesses.
TOURISM EMPLOYMENT, STATE INFO
Regional tourism employment in April totaled an estimated 8,600, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The April number was up from 8,200 in March, and unchanged from April 2011.
Average monthly employment in the sector is on a two-year decline. During 2007, 2008 and 2009, the average monthly employment was 9,300. That fell to 8,700 during 2010 and 8,500 during 2011.
Collections of a statewide 2% tourism tax generated $2.637 million during the first quarter of 2012, up 11.98% compared to the 2011 period. Collection of the statewide tax was $12.025 million during 2011, up 4.6% compared to $11.492 million during 2010.