For the first time in the history of Hot Springs' 3-cent advertising and promotion tax, a million dollars or more was collected in a single month, according to Steve Arrison, the CEO of Visit Hot Springs.
Taxes collected in March and remitted in April were $1,001,989. The previous high collected in a month was August 2022 when taxes collected in July and remitted in August totaled $921,898.
Let's put that into perspective for a moment.
Way back in July 2002, when I was a staff writer covering the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, I reported how the tax collections off local hotel and motel stays were up in May of that year, halting a five-month decline.
The April 2002 report showed the tax on hotel and motel rentals collected $94,119 in March of that year. This year, it collected $295,239.93 -- three times that amount.
The restaurant portion of the tax collected a staggering $707,749.46 in March this year.
The amount collected off hotel and motel stays remains the most closely watched component of the tax report, since those businesses cater mostly to tourists, reunions, conventioneers and other visitors. Since it is widely used as an indicator of the health of the tourist and convention markets, it rises and ebbs with the health of the tourism industry -- the pandemic was a solid indicator of that.
The report's release came on the heels of another tourism-related announcement, this one on the state level, as Arkansas prepares to celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week.
This year marks the 40th year of the annual celebration, May 7-13, to "spotlight the essential role that travel plays in driving economic growth and innovation," according to a news release from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
The annual industry celebration carries the theme of "Travel Forward."
"Gov. Sanders has given us a mandate to put Arkansas on the global stage, sharing the beauty and value of The Natural State with the world," Mike Mills, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said in the release announcing the celebration.
"Embodying the very spirit of that mandate, National Travel and Tourism Week celebrates our nation and our state and encourages people to 'Travel Forward.'"
From historical exhibits to presentations by park interpreters to musical performances, Arkansas communities and Welcome Centers are hosting giveaways and small events to celebrate travel and its impact on the state's economy, according to the department. Travelers can share their photos and experiences exploring The Natural State on social media with the hashtags #VisitArkansas and #NTTW23.
"Our state has so much to offer to travelers, whether you are an Arkansas native or a first-time visitor," Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism, said in the release. "Start planning your trip now with the many resources found at Arkansas.com and travel forward into your next Arkansas adventure."
Celebrated annually the first full week in May, National Travel and Tourism Week was created by Congress in 1983 "to elevate the economic power of travel in the U.S. This year's event marks 40 years of travel's essential role in stimulating economic growth, cultivating vibrant communities, creating quality job opportunities, inspiring new businesses and elevating the quality of life for Americans every day."
Arrison declared Hot Springs "recovered from COVID" back in October after a report showed that revenue from tourism in Garland County increased 2.4% from pre-pandemic levels. The latest tax collection report makes a good case for that. So take a few moments this coming week to pause and celebrate living in the number one tourism destination in the state -- and have hope for what the future will bring.