Eric Jackson, Vice President of the Oaklawn Jockey Club, spoke to the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club on Wednesday, commending tourism for leading to a better quality of life and prosperous economy.
Jackson said with 4-6 million visitors annually spending around $750 million in the community, it creates about 7,500 jobs that pay around $200-225 million.
"And I realize not everyone works in tourism," he said. "And I've had some people say, 'Well I'm not in the tourism business, it doesn't help me.' I think it helps everyone. ... If money comes into a community it eventually touches everybody."
Jackson provided the following economic theory:
In five weeks Oaklawn is going to open up the racing season. We'll have a long holiday weekend, and let's assume some people come up here from Dallas. They're going to stay at the Double Tree, they eat in local restaurants, go downtown, shop, visit the National Park, play golf and go to Oaklawn. When their weekend is over they're going to have a sizable bill at the Double Tree. So when they check out they're going to leave a pile of cash downstairs on the counter. Some may think this is the end of the economic impact made by the visitors, but it's actually just the start.
Since the Double Tree has guests, it's going to need staff, and one of the staff will be the general manager. So some of the money they left on the counter will go to her.
Since the general manager has a nice job, she's going to need a CPA later this year, so she will take some of the money that she got from the Double Tree and give it to her CPA.
Since the CPA has an additional client, the CPA might decide to put braces on his daughter's teeth. So he will go to a dentist in town, and some of the money he got from the general manager will go to the dentist.
Because the dentist has an additional patient, he might decide to redo his man cave at the house, so he will hire a contractor to do that job.
Some of the money will go to the contractor, and the contractor might decide to treat her sister to a day at the spa. So some of the money that she got will go to the spa operator.
The spa operator, as it turns out, is a God-fearing woman, and she believes in tithing, so she will give 10% to her very fundamental church. And since her very fundamental church will have additional money in the collection plate this Sunday, they may decide to give a pay increase to their minister, who, as it turns out, just gave a sermon on the evils of gambling and how it doesn't really benefit anybody.
"But yet it has benefited a whole string of people," Jackson said to a now-laughing roomful of rotarians. "And there are tentacles that come off of this and feed through the entire community."
Yet, there's more, because at every transaction point taxes are paid.
"Visitors to our community pay about $15 million a year in taxes to our city and our county," he said. "That money that goes for police and fire, streets, schools and everything else."
This benefit is something reaped by locals, provided by visitors. But wait! There's more.
"Since we've had a vibrant tourism industry, we also have a very successful retirement industry," Jackson said. "Most people, many people, decide to retire at places they enjoy visiting back when they were working. Nobody ever got up and said, 'You know, I've never been to Toledo, I think I'll retire there.' No, they retire to places like Hot Springs because they came here over the years, they got to meet many of you, they know the city, they know the attractions, they want to be part of this community.
"And every time we attract a new retiree to this community, it isn't tourism, but it's made possible by tourism. Every time we attract a new retiree to our community, that retiree will spend somewhere from $250,000 and $500,000 in this community during that person's retirement years. It's a huge industry that we have because of tourism."
But wait, there's more.
"Study after study has pointed out that people who live in successful tourism areas enjoy one of the highest qualities of life," he said. "Think about it; nobody wants to live next to a nuclear reactor. Nobody wants to live next to a steel plant. But if you live in a successful tourism community, there's always something going on that you might enjoy doing. Entertainment, sports, theatre (and) everything else."
Jackson asked everyone in the meeting to look out the windows of the top-floor Double Tree meeting room that's surrounded by Lake Hamilton.
"Aren't we lucky to get to live where we live?" he asked. "There are people all over America who are working and saving their money so that they can visit and vacation in Hot Springs for a week or two, and we get to live here every day. Aren't we lucky?
"And when you talk about Oaklawn, the economy, tourism, retirement, that revenue stream, the quality of life, all the things that go into making this rich mosaic that we have in Hot Springs, I think we just have to remind ourselves, aren't we lucky that we get to live here?"