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Tourism Tax Receipts Up 8% in Eclipse April, But No Record Set

3 min read

Arkansas’ tourism tax receipts bumped up by 8.1%  in April, the month of the long-awaited and much-hyped total solar eclipse, with counties that were in the path of total darkness averaging an 11% increase, according to Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage & Tourism.

The state collected almost $2.46 million from its 2% tourism tax in April, according to data made public on Tuesday. That’s an increase of $184,000 over the April 2023’s collection and represents $9.2 million in additional spending on hotels and other short-term lodging, campgrounds, boat rentals and tourist attractions. But it trailed collections in peak summer vacation months of 2022 and 2023.

Lewis said tourism for the eclipse was hard to predict, especially because “leading up to it, the projections of weather were not as great as we had hoped for.” But analysis after the fact has taught tourism officials that the market for a solar eclipse is much like the market for state parks and other outdoor recreation. “Visitors wanted to be in a natural setting or environment,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

As a result, Hot Springs National Park, the Buffalo National River and state parks in the path of total eclipse were popular destinations. In state parks, Lewis said, 81% of overnight accommodations during the eclipse period were from out of state. “That’s almost unheard of,” he said; about half of state park visitors are typically from in-state. And the out-of-state visitors came from 48 states, mainly Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee and Oklahoma. “It tells us that we were introducing the state of Arkansas to a whole new audience.” (Texans are usually the most frequent out-of-state users of Arkansas state parks, but they were able to stay in their home state for the April eclipse.)

Michael Pakko, chief economist and state economic forecaster at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute, had been conservative in his expectations of eclipse tourism. Still, he said, “It is somewhat surprising that the effect is not more noticeable” in the tourism tax receipts.

Pakko predicted between 160,000 and 350,000 out-of-state visitors for the solar phenomenon on Monday, April 8, while state agencies were preparing for 1.5 million or more.

“Then again,” Pakko said in an email, “we should note that a one-time event (even one taking place over a long weekend) can make a big impact for a short period of time, but that temporary boost to activity is less significant when considered over the period of a month or a year. The ongoing impact of activities and attractions that draw in tourists year after year have a far larger overall, cumulative effect.”

Arkansas Tourism Tax Collections

MONTH 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
JAN 787,043 833,448 934,716 881,035 950,759 957,320 933,910 899,450 1,242,984 1,512,089 1,644,199
FEB 864,818 941,979 1,021,461 1,009,844 1,002,064 1,074,961 1,366,314 928,513 1,461,616 1,617,071 1,756,272
MAR 1,146,503 1,234,184 1,230,561 1,374,572 1,397,203 1,465,799 824,039 1,678,932 2,079,873 2,147,068 2,253,906
APR 1,162,311 1,238,310 1,256,428 1,298,506 1,365,291 1,464,102 502,087 1,659,318 2,049,628 2,271,614 2,455,645
MAY 1,323,783 1,323,664 1,425,756 1,491,569 1,531,557 1,634,591 890,098 1,945,111 2,338,915 2,481,522
JUN 1,485,443 1,619,556 1,621,326 1,763,067 1,781,857 1,892,024 1,389,496 2,321,564 2,528,904 2,710,846
JUL 1,440,438 1,656,601 1,631,845 1,715,689 1,771,323 1,826,427 1,575,137 2,486,867 2,522,810 2,626,145
AUG 1,246,397 1,329,722 1,373,409 1,397,625 1,453,070 1,638,464 1,500,030 1,900,167 2,089,630 2,115,786
SEP 1,159,548 1,398,852 1,346,900 1,468,023 1,437,792 1,575,833 1,328,064 1,836,368 2,150,360 2,234,843
OCT 1,295,876 1,349,240 1,539,824 1,410,013 1,574,315 1,675,195 1,411,534 1,926,655 2,345,049 2,345,990
NOV 953,989 1,052,523 1,210,586 1,145,632 1,172,995 1,335,293 1,038,972 1,590,396 1,825,287 1,866,343
DEC 811,832 837,623 868,729 941,962 990,422 1,068,553 850,533 1,371,426 1,414,924 1,517,574
TOTAL 13,677,981 14,815,702 15,461,541 15,897,536 16,428,648 17,608,562 13,610,214 20,544,767 24,049,980 25,446,892

The path of totality passed through Arkansas from southwest to northeast in a band that included Texarkana, Hot Springs, Little Rock and Jonesboro but missed northwest and southeast Arkansas. Hot Springs, which levies a 3% local Advertising & Promotion Commission tax on lodging and prepared food, collected about 11% more in April than in the same month last year, Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, told Arkansas Business on Wednesday. April is the last full month of thoroughbred racing season at the city’s perennial tourist attraction, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

Jonesboro, which has a 4% A&P tax on hotels and 1% on restaurants, reported total A&P tax receipts that were 6.3% higher than in April 2023, but hotel receipts alone were up 14.6%.

The eclipse “definitely helped the state,” Arrison said in an email. “I wish it would happen again next year! Think of the PR value alone for our state! Add that to the increase in dollars spent and it was a big positive. We were getting visitors days after the eclipse with people traveling back to their home states.”
Lewis said the state is “retargeting” eclipse visitors with marketing messages designed to lure them back.

State tourism tax collections have exceeded April’s in six previous months: July 2021, June and July 2022, and May, June and July 2023. The all-time high was $2.71 million in June 2023.

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