Oklahoma Tourism Generated $7.1 Billion in Spending in 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY — In a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic caused upheaval throughout the travel sector, the Oklahoma travel and tourism industry increased its market share of domestic travel and generated $7.1 billion in direct spending by visitors, according to new research by the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department.

Oklahoma brought in an estimated 17 million visitors in 2020, a 17% drop from the previous year, but the number was substantially less than the 34% drop in domestic travel that the United States endured. The state’s share of the domestic travel market increased to 1.9% of all domestic travel, up from 1.5% in 2019.

Visitors’ average trip spend in Oklahoma saw an even bigger increase. For 2020, it grew to $434 per night, up $91 from 2019’s $343 per-night spend.

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The pandemic caused a drastic change in travel demand. As visitors increasingly focused on traveling for outdoor recreation, the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department shifted its marketing strategy to focus on outdoor recreation and other higher-spend categories. The category has always been a key economic driver for the state, which has the most diverse terrain mile-for-mile in the nation.

The portion of travelers visiting the state for outdoor recreation was 13% in 2020 after being just 5% in 2019. Oklahoma State Parks saw record highs in visitation, drawing more than five million visitors from April to June of 2020 — an increase of over two million for those same months in 2019.

“Those of us who live here have always known how incredible the Oklahoma outdoors are,” said Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who is also the state’s Secretary of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage. “During a time when many felt safer outside, many out-of-state travelers also got a chance to experience that beauty — fishing our lakes, hiking our trails and scaling our summits.”

Out-of-state visitors accounted for 61% of the state’s total visitor volume; that number was up from 52% in 2019. Nearly 6.7 million Oklahoma residents traveled within the state.

Oklahoma was among the first states to launch pandemic-focused tourism messaging. The department’s #OKHereWeGO campaign, which began in May 2020, encouraged Oklahomans to support local businesses and to travel when and where they felt safe. The campaign eventually expanded to out-of-state travelers.

The department worked with tourism industry partners around the state, providing a tool kit to enable them to help get the #OKHereWeGO messaging out.

Another of the department’s key initiatives in 2020 was the Oklahoma Route 66 Passport. Launched in August, the passport features 66 stops on Route 66 where travelers can get their passports stamp. The project was an immediate hit, with more than 29,000 ordered from TravelOK.com in 2020.

TravelOK.com, the department’s official website, saw record-breaking traffic in 2020. The site had more than 5.6 million users for the year — up 36.3% — and 26.3 million page views, an increase of 40.7%. TravelOK.com saw an increase in in-state users, which was one of the department’s goals for the year.

Brochure orders on TravelOK.com were up 18.16% for 2020, and brochure downloads increased 1.15%. Over 1.2 million people either ordered or downloaded brochures from TravelOK.com throughout the year.

The tourism industry was responsible for 92,450 jobs in Oklahoma in 2020, and it generated $569 million in state and local tax revenue.

The department’s research was conducted by industry-leading research firms Dean Runyan Associates and Omnitrak Group Inc. The full research reports can be found online at TravelOK.com/Industry. Other data was provided by ADARA, a pixel attribution tracking service the department has utilized since 2017.

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