Economic impact of tourism in Arkansas down 25.3%; tourism award winners announced

The 2020 Arkansas Tourism Economic Impact Report shows a 35.6% drop in the number of leisure travelers to the state and a more than 25% drop in the overall economic impact of tourism per year. compared to 2019. The declines are attributed to closures and disruptions related to COVID-19.

The report, released earlier this week at the Arkansas Governor’s 48th Annual Tourism Conference held in Fayetteville, shows the tourism industry’s total impact at $6.004 billion in 2020, down 25.3% from 2019. Total travelers in the state were estimated at 32.4 million, down 37.3%. Of the total number of travellers, approximately 24.4 million were pleasure travellers, down 35.6%. (Link here for a PDF of the full report.)

“I am pleased with the results of our 2020 Economic Impact Report,” Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said in a statement. “While the declines in visitation and tax collection in this year’s report are not ones we want to repeat, the good news is that we have outperformed many of our competitor markets. The data reflects the hard work and commitment of our industry to successfully meet unprecedented challenges.

Here are other elements of the report.
• Arkansas Visitor Centers assisted more than 627,000 visitors in 2020.
• 51,882 jobs were related to tourism and travel in 2020, down 23.4%.
• Local tax revenue related to tourism and travel was estimated at $138.8 million, down 16.9%.
• All state tax revenue related to tourism and travel was estimated at $363.7 million, down 21.8%.
• Of the overall $6 billion impact, $1.8 billion is attributed to food and beverage sales and $1.7 billion to transportation.

Here are the top 10 counties by estimated travel and tourism spending.
Pulaski: $1.178 billion
Garland: $558.1 million
Benton: $548 million
Washington: $382 million
Carroll: $241.5 million
Sebastian: $238.2 million
Crittenden: $190 million
Craighead: $165 million
Baxter: $158.4 million
Faulkner: $128.7 million

Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism, said the state’s tourism industry is well positioned to recover due to its many outdoor attractions, events and natural beauty.

“The natural state has long been known for its beauty and outdoor attractions, and our reputation has served as a safety net during a difficult time for more urban destinations,” Napper said. “As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, we already know that 2021 data will illustrate a banner year for visits to Arkansas. More than ever, people are looking for safe outdoor activities and they have clearly realized that Arkansas is the place to go.

The winners of the state’s top tourism awards were also announced at the conference.
• Tourism Personality of the Year: Kalene Griffith of Visit Bentonville
• Natural State Tourism Development Award: Thrive, Inc.
• Tourism Organization of the Year: Visit Hot Springs
• Tourist Attraction of the Year: Hot Springs National Park
• Rising Star Award: Paul and Sarah Heer
• Tourism Region of the Year (Audience Award): Diamond Lakes Region

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