OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma travel and tourism industry generated a record $9.6 billion in direct spending by an estimated 21.5 million visitors in 2018, according to new research released by the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department.

Travel spending in Oklahoma increased by 7.3 percent since 2017, and has seen a 29 percent increase, equaling $2.2 billion, since 2010. Among major export industries, tourism is the state’s third-largest, with a gross domestic product amounting to $3.6 billion. Between 2017 and 2018, travel industry GDP grew by 4.7 percent.

“Travel and tourism have been a crucial and consistent economic driver for Oklahoma,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “A key part of making Oklahoma a Top Ten state is showing the rest of the world what Oklahoma has to offer. Through tourism, we can do that.”

The industry has seen growth in jobs and earnings with increases for eight straight years, with both hitting record highs in 2018. Direct travel-generated employment in the state was 103,600 in 2018, which is an increase of 20 percent since 2010. The earnings produced by these jobs grew to $2.4 billion in 2018; that’s a 39 percent increase from 2010.

In 2018, travel spending generated $1.1 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue combined. The industry has seen an $89 million increase in state taxes alone since 2010, and a $24 million increase over 2017. The $708 million in state and local taxes generated in 2018 represents $460 per Oklahoma household of taxes paid by visitors that fund core government functions, displacing taxes Oklahoma residents would otherwise have to pay.

“We are so proud of the consistent gains the Oklahoma tourism industry has made in the past decade,” said Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who is also the state’s secretary of Tourism and Branding. “Travelers are figuring out what those of us who live here have known all along — Oklahoma is truly an incredible place.

The state’s return on investment for its tourism marketing program remains high. The department’s 2019 spring marketing campaign generated six dollars in state and local tax revenue for every dollar invested in tourism advertising. The department has already seen high returns from one of Pinnell’s early initiatives, the Oklahoma Fishing Trail, which was launched in June 2018 as a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

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