Although the latest numbers from 2022 are still to be published, Oklahoma’s executive director of tourism and recreation, Shelley Zumwalt, came with some interesting numbers and facts in her luggage at the annual tourism luncheon recently at Apache Casino Hotel.
About 650,000 visitors came to Comanche County in 2021, thereby being responsible for the direct employment of over 2,300 residents, Zumwalt reported. The 650,000 visitors in Comanche County spent a combined $204 million, which is an average of about $315 per visitor, producing $51 million in direct earnings and $17 million in state and local tax revenue.
“For the size of Comanche County, that’s significant,” she said. “What tourism can do for Lawton and the areas around Lawton is super impactful. There are people coming here because they enjoy it here, and you can be proud of that.”
Tourism is the third-largest industry in the state, just behind aerospace and energy, making tourism a “tremendous driver of economic impact,” according to Zumwalt. Tourism was responsible for $10 billion in economic impact in Oklahoma in 2021.
“Tourism is amazing in our state,” she added, “but there’s a lot we can do to make it better. What we’re doing in the next 10 years will be critical.”
One problem, according to Zumwalt: “Oklahoma hasn’t done a great job at defining what it’s great at. How can we tell people how amazing our state is?”
Some examples, Zumwalt said, are the 13 different ecosystems in the Sooner State, the second-lowest cost of living in the United States and the nice people.
“You could go across the world or you could go to Oklahoma,” Zumwalt said. “There are so many opportunities within a couple hundred miles, a one-of-a-kind experience that you don’t have to travel halfway across the world for.”