Hot Springs Tourism: Nearly 8M Visitors in 2018 Spent Record $677M

Steve Arrison saw the five-year trend from his perch as Hot Springs' tourism chieftain. Now he's seen the numbers.

Travelers have increased their spending in Hot Springs, the state's tourism mecca, by nearly 30% since 2013, according to data presented Monday to the area's tourism industry. The public report was delivered by Michael Erdman, senior vice president of research for Longwoods International, which bills its travel research as the largest ongoing study of American travelers anywhere.

Nearly 8 million visitors spent a record $677 million in 2018 in Hot Springs, a 29% increase since 2013, according to Erdman's data. Home to the national park, natural attractions like thermal waters, lakes and the hiking and biking trails of the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs also capitalizes on thoroughbred racing and now casino gambling at Oaklawn, a particular local draw, according to Longwoods' TravelUSA Program, which keeps tabs on travelers' habits.

"The report confirmed what we've been seeing," Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, told Arkansas Business, adding that the region keeps diversifying "with improved and new attractions along with new and improved lodging."

The research from Longwoods, a Toronto company with four U.S. offices, found that visitors spent $186 million in local restaurants and bars, $143 million in retail outlets, and $129 million on hotel rooms and other accommodations. Expenditures on sightseeing, entertainment and recreation reached $142 million, and spending on local transit, including gas, car rentals, parking and taxis, amounted to $78 million. 

"All sectors benefited from the huge increase in visitor spending over the past five years," Erdman said in his report. 

The 8 million visitor total was up 18 percent from 2013, said Longwoods, which bills itself as a tourism research leader with 40 years of experience and clients — in addition to Visit Hot Springs — like San Francisco Travel, the Colorado Tourism Office, Visit Philadelphia and Travel Oregon.

Arrison, who said the results are "vital for members of our tourism industry" and important to residents and businesses in Hot Springs and beyond. The data showed that overnight travelers spent $386 million, up 21% over five years. Day trippers spent $291 million, "up an impressive 42 percent," Erdman said.

Arrison gave a particular nod to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, which has introduced casino gambling and is building a new luxury hotel and casino space at the track site off Central Avenue.

The report "reaffirms the impact of Oaklawn, with arguably the best live race meet in the United States and purses provided by the casino side of their business," Arrison said. "The casino and its impact on the live race meet and every other day of the year can easily be seen in the tremendous growth in day trip visitors."

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