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FORT SMITH TOURISM

The Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau saw a 10.6 percent increase in revenue in 2016, bringing in nearly $889,000 through the city’s 3 percent lodging tax.

It was a “record year” for the bureau, according to Fort Smith Advertising and Promotions Executive Director Claude Legris.

The 2016 total in lodging taxes, also known as the “hospitality tax,” was $888,735, or about $57,000 more than budgeted and more than $88,000 above what was brought in during 2015, Legris said Wednesday. Legris gave his year-end report to the A&P Commission on Tuesday.

Courtyard Marriott, from left, Fort Smith Convention Center and Double Tree By Hilton as seen Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, from the third level of the downtown parking garage.

JAMIE MITCHELL // TIMES RECORD

The feat was accomplished while 252 hotel rooms were under renovation as the former Holiday Inn City Center downtown transformed into the DoubleTree by Hilton at 700 Rogers Ave. Hampton Inn by Hilton, 6201 Rogers Ave., has also undergone a complete renovation of 178 rooms. Courtyard by Marriott downtown also completed extensive renovations over last year.

A&P Commissioner Storm Nolan of CSK Hotels, which owns Hampton Inn by Hilton, pointed out the renovation of Hampton Inn is expected to be complete in May and the DoubleTree held its grand opening last week.

Some of the lodging tax increase in 2016 can be attributed to the opening of Home2 Suites by Hilton on Phoenix Avenue in January 2016. Nolan also connected some of the increase in lodging tax revenue to a 1.8 percent increase in average daily rates at Fort Smith’s mid- to upper-market hotels. The occupancy rate for Fort Smith was also up .07 percent, Nolan added.

Another hotel, Fairfield Inn & Suites, is in the process of being constructed on Phoenix Avenue near the Fort Smith Regional Airport. The 53,000-square-foot hotel with 94 guest rooms is expected to be completed this summer.

The hospitality industry showed the most growth in employment numbers for Fort Smith last year, according to a recent report made by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business. In the past year, leisure and hospitality jobs increased about 2.2 percent based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Leisure and hospitality now makes up 8 percent of Fort Smith’s jobs.

December numbers

The CVB’s December financial report also showed revenue from lodging taxes in Fort Smith that month were $57,386, a 7.4 percent increase over December 2015. Monthly expenses for the Fort Smith CVB in December were $60,943 and $748,836 for the year. This was $6,258 less than budgeted for the month and $64,088 less than budgeted for the year.

The A&P fund balance at the end of 2016 was $351,709.

“At the end of December, the fund balance always looks a little high because it really represents the November and December collections,” Legris explained. “So, we’re in good shape for the fund balance getting the year started off.”

Airbnb

Legris also told commissioners he had made contact with Airbnb regarding future lodging tax collections for Fort Smith. Airbnb is an online platform and marketplace that connects guests with unique accommodations everywhere in the world. There are two homes listed at Airbnb.com as potential lodgings, with prices between $70 and $200 a night.

A Feb. 21 email to Legris from Melanie Goggins of Airbnb explains that the San Francisco-based company “recognizes that the tourism industry is an incredibly important economic driver around the world” and “when it comes to taxes, we believe in helping our community pay its fair share.”

The Airbnb tax paying policy calls for a “guest service fee” that ranges from 6 percent to 12 percent to cover the cost of running the website and services. A 3 percent “host service fee” is also deducted from host payouts each time a reservation is booked at a listing to cover the cost of processing guest payments.

To collect and remit tourist taxes, Airbnb explains that it has been working with cities and counties to add more communities to the list of places where Airbnb collects tourist taxes from guests on behalf of hosts to remit directly to the cities.

The agreement between the Fort Smith CVB and Airbnb would not be retroactive, Legris explained. It would only be for future tax revenues.

New billboard

D*Face's mural on the wall of the former Hamburger Barn in downtown Fort Smith as part of The Unexpected Project. 

TIMES RECORD

The Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau also released plans this week to freshen up an Interstate 40 billboard using a portion of the D*Face mural created in the 2015 Unexpected event, organized by 64.6 Downtown.

The new billboard for Exit 325 features D*Face’s mural of a cowboy on horseback. The former billboard featured a small boy dressed up like the Rooster Cogburn character in “True Grit.”

A new map detailing the locations of each mural downtown, for both the 2015 and 2016 Unexpected events, is available at Miss Laura’s Social Club, the Fort Smith Visitor Center, at 2 N. B St.