Mar 10, 2022 - News

Tourists flocked back to Arkansas last year

An aerial view of Roark Bluff at the Buffalo National River
Roark Bluff at the Buffalo National River. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

2020 was a dark year for tourism in the Natural State, but 2021 brought the sun out again.

Driving the news: Collections in 2021 from the state's 2% lodging and attractions tax were up nearly 17% to $20.9 million from 2019's $17.9 million, according to the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.

  • The tax pays for the Arkansas tourism marketing budget.
  • It had dipped to $14.2 million in 2020.

Why it matters: Tourism is a major economic driver in the state. In 2019, the industry was responsible for nearly 70,000 jobs, $429 million in state tax revenue and $169 million in local tax revenue.

Data: Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. Chart: Axios Visuals

The backdrop: The parks & tourism department recently released its 2020 economic impact report.

By the numbers: Visitor spending dropped to $6 billion in 2020 from $8 billion in 2019, and there was a 44% decrease in overnight stays to about 12.6 million from 22.5 million in 2019.

What they're saying: "As the world continues to make its way out of the pandemic, we already know that 2021 data will illustrate a record-breaking year for Arkansas visitation. More than ever, people are looking for safe outdoor activities, and they clearly have seen that Arkansas is the place to go," Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism, wrote in the 2020 report.

  • May, June, July, August and October of 2021 broke records in the 2% tax collections, ADP&T spokesperson Leah DiPietro told Axios.
  • Those five months alone — some during the fuzzy time before the Delta variant curbed activity — accounted for more than half the collections last year.

What we're watching: "Gas prices do historically have an effect on tourism, especially for drive-in states like Arkansas," DiPietro wrote in an email to us.

  • "But this year will be interesting to see if that holds true given the increased interest in travel and outdoor recreation as COVID fears continue to ease."
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