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Numbers still good for Fort Smith regional travel, tourism sector

The Fort Smith regional travel and tourism sector continues to post gains compared to 2013 based on hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith and Van Buren, with sector employment still a bright spot in the regional labor market.

Hospitality tax collections in Van Buren for the first six months of 2014 total $216,205, up 1.6% compared to the same period in 2013. The city collects a 1% tax on lodging and a 1% prepared food tax.

June receipts totaled $35,594, down 2.6. However, Maryl Koeth, executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Commission, said a mailing error prevented a large collection from being entered in June. She said the June tally will be “slightly above” June 2013 when the check is received.

If the June collection is amended higher, the city will have enjoyed four consecutive months of gains. February was down 0.5%, but that followed a 4.2% increase in January collections.

Koeth said hotel activity is still better than the restaurant sector.

“We continue to see a slow increase in spending with lodging still seeing the bigger increase with a 3.5% increase in receipts over 2013. Restaurants are still below last year by half a percent, which is in keeping with the change we have seen over the last few years in consumer spending,” Koeth explained.

Collections in Van Buren during 2013 totaled $423,221.83, remarkably close to the $423,222.91 during 2012. 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.

FORT SMITH NUMBERS
For the first six months of 2014 the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau collected $377,375, up 1.8% compared to the same period of 2013. The city collects a 3% tax on lodging.

June hospitality tax collections in Fort Smith totaled $70,206, up 2.4% compared to June 2013.

Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said an increase in occupancy and room rates helped push higher the June numbers.

“Increases in collections included Hampton Inn +6%; Homewood Suites by Hilton +8%; Residence Inn by Marriott +10% and Holiday Inn City Center +17%,” Legris wrote in an e-mail. “Holiday Inn showed growth in all market areas including teams for sporting events (swimming and softball tournaments), conferences in conjunction with Convention Center events, in-house conference bookings and corporate.”

Collections in Fort Smith during 2013 totaled $731,057, down 2% compared to the same period in 2012. During 2012, Fort Smith hospitality tax collections totaled $746,182, up 5.37% compared to the 2011 period. The 2011 collections were up 4.3% compared to 2010.

Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 9,600 during June, down from 9,700 in May and above the 9,400 in June 2013. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.

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ARKANSAS TOURISM BOOST
Collections of Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax during the first five months of 2014 totaled $5.284 million, up 6.6% compared to the $4.954 million during the same period of 2013.

The 2% tourism tax set a record in 2013 by reaching $12.716 million. Richard Davies, the state’s tourism chief, predicted 2014 would be even better for Arkansas’ tourism and travel sector. March, April and May set records for collections of the state’s tourism tax for the months.

The 2013 collections were up 2.5% compared to the $12.405 million in 2012, and well ahead of the $11.378 million slump in 2009 when national economic conditions proved tough on Arkansas’ tourism industry.

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