If only other sectors of the Fort Smith regional economy were trending like the area tourism sector.
January to May hospitality tax collections in Van Buren and Fort Smith are up 8% and 11.1%, respectively.
Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren totaled $37,344 in May, up 8.6% compared to the $34,393 during May 2011. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax.
For the first five months of 2012, Van Buren hospitality tax collections totaled $211,834, up 8% compared to $196,225 in the 2011 period. The year-to-date gain through May is down from 9.8% through the first three months.
Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotions Commission, said lodging tax collections are 9.5% above 2011, and restaurants are up 6.91%.
“We are continuing the slow improvement in revenue from all tourism sectors. I attribute some of this to an improving economy coupled with targeted marketing in areas that are a shorter drive to Van Buren,” Koeth said.
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 $66,731, up 9% compared to May 2011. For the first five months of 2012, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections totaled $310,772, up 11.1% compared to $279,695 in the 2011 period. The year-to-date gain through May 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.
“We anticipate that we will have solid June numbers as well with Jehovah Witnesses first week as well as the United Methodist Church convention that we held,” said Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau.
An estimated 12,000 Jehovah Witnesses members 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.
TOURISM EMPLOYMENT, STATE INFO
Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 8,700 during May, up from 8,600 in April and below the 8,800 during May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.
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 $3.663 million during the first four months of 2012, up 9.49% compared to the 2011 period. The June report shows collection of $1.025 million, up 3.56% compared to the June 2011 report. Collection of the statewide tax was $12.025 million during 2011, up 4.6% compared to $11.492 million during 2010.
The trend in regional tourism growth is part of a national trend. The National Restaurant Association reported July 6 that in the 12 months ending June 2012, eating and drinking place employment jumped 2.7%, more than double the 1.3% increase in total U.S. employment during the same period.
Restaurants added a net 116,000 positions in the first half of 2012, according to the report. Overall, restaurants have added more than 575,000 jobs since the employment recovery began in March 2010, with industry staffing levels standing 193,000 jobs above the pre-recession peak.
The restaurant industry is the nation's second-largest private sector employer with a workforce of nearly 13 million, or about 10% of the U.S. labor force.
The NRA projects that restaurant industry sales will exceed $632 billion this year, a 3.5% increase over 2011 sales. This is the third consecutive year that industry sales will post real gains, driven by moderate improvements in consumer's disposable income and gradual release of pent-up demand for restaurant visits.