Business and tourism sector in Metro Fort Smith sees big rebound in 2021

The Fort Smith Metro business and travel sector in 2021 saw a big rebound from the COVID-19 crash in 2020, with hospitality tax revenue in Fort Smith and Van Buren setting new records and revenue of the 2% tourist tax in the region much higher than before. pandemic records.

Van Buren, which has a 3% hospitality tax on lodging and 1% on prepared meals, generated $743,700 for the city’s advertising and promotions commission, up 25.7% compared to $591,682 in 2020. Revenue was also 18.6% higher than the 2019 record of $626,912. .

Fort Smith, which has a 3% hospitality tax on lodging, raised $961,940 for the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2021, up 49.6% from 2020 and the above the record of $920,247 in 2019.

Sebastian County generated $825,186 from the state’s 2% tourism tax in 2021, up 66.2% from 2020 and above the previous record of $659,310 in 2019. The Crawford County collected $246,043 of the 2% tax in 2021, up 50.8% from 2019 above the 2019 record of $187,454.

Jobs in the area’s leisure and hospitality sector have not fully recovered. The sector’s average monthly employment was 9,430 in 2021, better than the 8,600 in 2019, but below the record high of 9,510 in 2019.

“BETTER THAN NORMAL”
Maryl Purvis, Director of Van Buren Advertising and Promotion Commissionsaid people are eager to get back to some semblance of normal in 2021 and that will continue into 2022.

“We saw a pretty good increase in visitors over spring break, maybe a bit more than normal. Excursion train passenger numbers for this time of year were also better than normal. People are ready to return to more normal life and that means traveling for weekend getaways and vacations. Even with higher gas prices, I think we’ll see this trend continue through the traditional travel and vacation months,” Purvis said.

She said the city will host many festivals in 2022, including the many downtown Van Buren events, and the Arkansas Class 5A track and field meet will be held in Van Buren in early May. But COVID surges in 2021 remain a reminder that the pandemic is not over.

“That said, there’s a lot going on in the world right now and, as we’ve learned with COVID, things can change in a very short time. Going forward, I will continue to be cautiously optimistic about tourist travel for the remainder of 2022,” Purvis said.

‘MORE DIVERSIFIED VISITOR’
Timothy Jacobsen, Executive Director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the agency has refocused its marketing on the “drive-thru market,” which targets people within a three-hour drive. He said they were also using “a more digital strategy” to better target potential tourists and maximize advertising budget.

“We plan to grow tourism in the river valley by attracting a more diverse visitor by promoting our destination and the differentials we have to offer compared to our competitors. Western heritage is an important part of the Fort Smith brand that we continue to promote, but we also believe there is great opportunity with our unique arts and entertainment that we have to offer. The opening of the US Marshals Museum in 2023 will allow us yet another unique attraction to attract new and repeat visits to Fort Smith,” he said in a note to Talk Business & Politics.

Jacobsen also said the office is working with Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG), which operates the Fort Smith Convention Center, “to expand group meetings, conventions and events.”

Marc Mulherin, general manager of the congress centre, said recently Fort Smith Board of Directors that facility upgrades and staff changes will drive more events and groups in 2022. He said the OVG is now able to show “who we are from a conventions and meetings,” and the Fort Smith Convention Center can rival Rogers, Little Rock, and even Hot Springs. Mulherin said they were budgeted for 146 events in 2020 and as of March 1 they had 80-85 confirmed events.

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