This week, we’re celebrating the 40th Annual National Travel and Tourism Week, which provides an opportunity to highlight this important industry before the start of the busy summer season. The theme this year is Travel Forward, a focus on how tourism advances our country. That has especially been true in Oklahoma over the last few years, where despite a global pandemic, we’ve experienced unprecedented growth that has moved our economy, workforce, and communities forward.
When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the world in 2020, we knew it was time to take a different approach towards tourism promotion. That led to the #OKHereWeGO campaign, which invited Oklahomans to take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities right outside their front door. The campaign was a huge success, generating more than $50 million in statewide hotel lodging revenue in 2021. With an investment of $748,430 from the state, it yielded a 50:1 return on investment. #OKHereWeGO encouraged many Oklahomans to explore the natural beauty of their state for the first time, increasing attendance at our State Parks, campgrounds, lakes, rivers, and trails. This has generated crucial sales tax revenue in rural communities across the state.
The stats are in for tourism’s economic impact in 2021, and it was the best year in our state’s history. The industry generated a record breaking $10.1 billion in direct visitor spending, creating 4,000 new jobs and exceeding 2019 visitor spending by 3.2%. That same year, the industry also supported 96,800 jobs and generated $748 million in state and local taxes. That translates to an annual tax savings of $485 for every Oklahoma household.
We are now entering a new era for Oklahoma tourism. Travel restrictions are lifted, and we are welcoming more visitors than ever before for conferences, events, road trips, and vacations. In February, the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department launched our new “Imagine That” campaign. “Imagine That,” the state’s official branding tagline, illustrates Oklahoma’s lifestyle-rich opportunities that inspire visitors to dream big. Through a series of videos, this campaign paints a vivid picture of Oklahoma’s culture, economy, and resources with one resounding message: Oklahoma is a great place to live, visit, work, and play.
It’s no secret that tourism is a big deal in Oklahoma. From the stunning landscapes of the Great Plains to the iconic landmarks along Route 66, our state offers the unique Americana experience that tourists want. My goal for my next three and a half years serving as Lieutenant Governor is to continue investing in our tourism assets and inviting visitors to the state. Each year, travel spending injects billions of dollars into the Oklahoma economy. Our tourism industry doesn’t just support the economy – it moves our state forward.
Matt Pinnell is the 17th Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma and serves on the Governor’s Cabinet as Secretary of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage.