Measuring Tourism: The Economic and Amenities Impact on Champaign County

Whether you’re planning a vacation or only wish you were, summer is a major tourism season. But instead of thinking about tourism as going somewhere else, we decided to take a look at the economic impact of tourism here in Champaign County.

Part of using data well is knowing when you aren’t the best source for a given piece of data and it’s time to look elsewhere. All of the data in the table and charts below are courtesy of Visit Champaign County. These and other pieces of data can be found in their annual fiscal year reports.

Source: Visit Champaign County, Annual Reports FY12, FY13, FY14, FY15, FY16.

Total direct visitor spending, or the cumulative amount of money that all visitors to the county spend on their visits, has increased between two and seven percent each year between 2010 and 2015; the change for its entire 2010-2015 study period is 24.36%, the second-highest growth shown by any of the four measures.

Source: Visit Champaign County, Annual Reports FY12, FY13, FY14, FY15, FY16.

The highest 2010-2015 growth, 24.44%, was in local tax receipts. Unsurprisingly, the 2010-2015 growth in local tax receipts corresponds closely with the 2010-2015 growth in visitor spending, although the two measures show different year to year growth percentages. Looking at their general slopes over the study period, they appear similar, if not exact matches.

Source: Visit Champaign County, Annual Reports FY12, FY13, FY14, FY15, FY16.

The study period growth of Champaign County’s tourism employment, 7.72%, was the smallest of any of the four measures, with 190 additional tourism jobs between 2011 and 2015. The shorter study period may have an effect on the overall percent change; tourism employment data is not available for 2010. If the trend was consistent through the previous year and the unknown 2010 figure was less than 2,460, the overall increase would be greater for 2010-2015 than 2011-2015, and the overall growth percentage would be higher.

(However, even assuming the extension of a consistent trend to a previous year, it is highly unlikely that it would reach or even approach the percentages visitor spending or local tax receipts. In order for the number of tourism jobs to have increased by 25% between 2010 and 2015, the number of jobs in 2010 would have had to be 2,120, over 300 fewer jobs than 2011, which would be a year-to-year increase over three times greater than that seen for tourism jobs in any other year.)

Source: Visit Champaign County, Annual Reports FY12, FY13, FY14, FY15, FY16.

The study period for tourism payroll is the shortest of the four measures: data is only available between 2013 and 2015. The year to year increase between 2014 and 2015 was 7.14%, the largest single year to year increase of any of the four measures. Like visitor spending and local tax receipts, the slope of the tourism jobs and tourism payroll are very similar, but are not exactly alike.

Source: Visit Champaign County, Annual Reports FY14, FY15, FY16.

The impression given by the four measures in the table and charts above is that the tourism industry in Champaign County is growing. Additional years of data will be helpful in continuing to assess this trend; earlier years would be helpful to gauge the trends of tourism before and during the recession.

Another way to look at tourism is by economic sector, using NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes. At the county level, the U.S. Census Bureau releases an annual dataset called County Business Patterns, which provides the number of establishments in a given industry, the number of employees of those establishments, and the establishments’ payroll. By selecting relevant NAICS codes – for tourism, we chose all codes under “71: Arts, entertainment, and recreation” and all codes under “72: Accommodation and food services” – you can access a wealth of detailed economic data.

However, trying to evaluate tourism in a given area only using County Business Patterns presents a few challenges. One is that the dataset includes only information on the establishments, not on the people visiting the establishments and why (obviously, because that would raise concerns both on the basis of privacy and feasibility). So, for example, according to the 2015 County Business Patterns for Champaign County, there were four establishments in Champaign County in 2015 categorized as “Golf courses and country clubs” (codes 71391 and 713910).[1] Their employment and payroll information are available, but we have no way to know how many people are visiting those establishments, and how the number of visitors breaks down into local residents and tourists. The same can be said about the 180 full-service restaurants (code 722511) in Champaign County.[2] Each one almost definitely serves a mix of both Champaign County residents and visitors from outside the county. The best we can do when evaluating tourism based on NAICS codes is to select promising-looking codes for establishments that could be attracting and serving tourists – we can’t be sure if, and to what degree, they actually are attracting serving tourists.

In addition, for all industries, the amount of available data depends on the size of your area of interest. If there is only a single establishment in your area of interest with a particular NAICS code, the data on payroll and number of employees is withheld to protect the privacy of that establishment. For example, also according to the 2015 County Business Patterns for Champaign County, there was only one dance company (codes 71112 and 711120) in Champaign County in 2015.[3] We can view the NAICS codes, the study year, and the number of establishments, but no data on their employment or payroll.

We can’t wrap up without bringing the discussion back to Champaign County as a place to live, in addition to as a place to visit. As we can see from the Visit Champaign County data, tourism is an asset to the local economy, through money visitors spend at local businesses and venues, and through local tax receipts. Furthermore, the types of venues and events (recreational, educational, arts and culture, etc.) that lend themselves to bringing tourists to an area from elsewhere are also great quality of life amenities to people who live there year-round. Think of a place you’ve taken a trip to and enjoyed: how many of the things that you liked about going there are things that locals probably take advantage of and enjoy on a regular basis? We’d bet that it’s a lot of them.

There are certainly locations, venues, and events that are oriented more toward welcoming tourists than serving locals. Annual festivals, seasonal attractions like ski or beach resorts, and major recreation destinations may not be accessible to or geared toward year-round local use. But other things that are positive additions to a trip experience, like a favorite restaurant in a city you visit for an annual conference, a walkable shopping and entertainment district, or a user-friendly public transit system, are things that make a place great to live in, as well as great to visit.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau; Geography Area Series: County Business Patterns, 2015 Business Patterns, Table CB1500A11; generated by CCRPC staff; using American FactFinder; (26 June 2017).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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