More events held in the Fort Smith area like the upcoming “Battle at the Fort” volleyball tournament may be needed to improve the area hospitality industry and boost Fort Smith and Van Buren hospitality tax collections.
The volleyball event, which brings more than 6,000 people to the region, is hosted by Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball and is set for Jan. 25-26 (for ages 15-18) and Feb. 1-2 (for ages 10-14), and is held at the Fort Smith Convention Center.
In addition to Arkansas, teams often travel from Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas for the tournament. It has grown to be the largest volleyball tournament in either Arkansas or Oklahoma, according to the Fort Smith Juniors organization.
“Last year we had a record year in terms of number of teams and we were just over 190. This year we are around 205 and the tournament continues to grow every year,” Club Director Greg Hale said in a statement. “When it first started nearly 15 years ago we utilized a few courts from the school system during one weekend. Today the tournament is spread out over two weekends and the club rents and places temporary courts in the Fort Smith Convention Center for two back to back weekends.”
Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, estimated that the 2013 tournament created a $1.831 million economic impact for the region.
“This total impact of nearly $2 million would probably have been higher had we not experienced some winter weather on the first go-round,” Legris explained. “Another important element is that we do see quite a few college volleyball coaches at this event doing some scouting for their incoming freshman classes which could mean that play in this tournament could become quite significant in for the potential of college scholarships. ... This has always been a great event for the local economy as well as the future for the participants.”
Tournament organizers have said the event fills up hotels and restaurants in Van Buren and Fort Smith.
Dev Pathik, CEO of Sports Facilities Advisory in Clearwater Fla., recently told The City Wire that spending on sports travel has steadily risen during the past few years and is largely fueled by youth sports. He said families collectively spend $192 million per day supporting their children’s sports activities. That ranges from gear, uniform fees, private lessons and travel to games often played each weekend during their appropriate seasons.
Youth sports and sports-related travel is creating an approximate economic impact of $7 billion per year, according to Pathik. Cities across the country have taken notice in recent years and competition for hosting tournaments for travel ball has become intense, he added.
The Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball Club is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to giving female athletes, grades 3rd through 12th, the opportunity to learn, play, compete, and develop their skills at the game of volleyball. The club is made up of more than 20 teams and includes more than 200 players from all over the Fort Smith region, including communities as far away as Mena, Russellville, Fayetteville, Siloam Springs and eastern Oklahoma. The club season begins in November and typically concludes in April.
Fort Smith Juniors was started in 1994 by University of Arkansas at Fort Smith coach Jane Sargent, who at the time was a coach at Chaffin Junior High in Fort Smith.
FORT SMITH COLLECTIONS
Unfortunately, the 2014 tournament will not help boost the 2013 hospitality tax collection tally for Fort Smith.
Collections in Fort Smith for the first 11 months of 2013 totals $678,553, down 3.1% compared to the same period in 2012. However, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections have improved during each quarter. Collections were down 6.4% in the first quarter, down 1.6% during the second quarter, and down just 0.5% in the third quarter.
November collections were $53,789, down 3.7% compared to November 2012. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging.
During 2012, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections totaled $746,182, up 5.37% compared to the 2011 period.
VAN BUREN COLLECTIONS
Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren during the first 11 months of 2013 total $391,150, up just 0.09% from the $390,771 in the same period of 2012. November collections were $333,219, up 2.6% from the $32,383 in November 2012. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax.
During 2012, Van Buren hospitality tax collections totaled $425,554, up 5.2% compared to the 2011 collections. Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren during 2011 totaled $429,561, up 2.34% compared to 2010. The 2011 collections ended a two-year skid in Van Buren.
Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Commission, said 2013 receipts will likely be higher than 2012, but is not optimistic about 2014 economic conditions.
“If this trend holds for December tax receipts we will end the year slightly above 2012. I am not forecasting any change in revenue trends for 2014. I think we will continue to see a very sluggish economic recovery with occasional setbacks during 2014,” Koeth said.
Although collections have been flat in Van Buren and down in Fort Smith, employment in the sector has held up on a year-over-year comparison. Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 9,100 during November, down from 9,300 in October and above the 8,900 in November 2012. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.