Jul 19, 2021 - News
Fayetteville's tourism budget bounces back thanks to restaurant-goers
It's one restaurant or bar after the other in downtown Fayetteville.
Fayetteville's tourism budget is rebounding as people eat out at restaurants again. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series looking at the state of tourism in NWA’s four largest cities as they emerge from the pandemic.

Fayetteville's tourism arm, Experience Fayetteville, is beginning to see revenues bounce back, but it could take until next year to see pre-pandemic numbers, Molly Rawn, the organization's chief executive officer, tells Axios.

What's happening: In a promising sign, advertising and promotions tax collections for this spring were up slightly from spring 2019.

Context: Fayetteville collects a 2% hotel/motel tax and a 2% prepared food tax.

  • Half the money goes to Experience Fayetteville, the organization responsible for promoting the city, and half goes to the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Experience Fayetteville uses the funds for marketing to bring events to the city, festivals like First Thursday and Lights of the Ozarks, and bond debt repayment.
Source: Experience Fayetteville. Chart: Axios Visuals

The uptick is boosting the tourism organization's budget after advertising and promotions tax collections took an 18% hit in 2020, with about $6 million in collections compared to about $7.4 million in 2019.

Yes, but: The recent increase is largely because of people eating at restaurants. Lack of business travel is still hampering recovery, Rawn says.

She doesn't expect Experience Fayetteville's other main source of revenue, rental fees for events, like weddings and business meetings at the Town Center, to be back up until 2022.

Flashback: Experience Fayetteville had to lay off some staff, mostly part-time event staff at the Town Center, because of a pandemic-related temporary closure and lack of demand.

  • The Town Center brought in more than $209,000 in 2020 — about a 74% dip from 2019, when it brought in nearly $800,000.

Between the lines: Fayetteville did not see as large of a drop in advertising and promotions collections in 2020 compared to cities that don't collect a prepared food tax because restaurants bounced back faster than hotels.

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