Richard Greene

Arlington attracted a record number of visitors last year

Invited guests got a ride on Catwoman Whip as Six Flags Over Texas introduced three new rides in May.
Invited guests got a ride on Catwoman Whip as Six Flags Over Texas introduced three new rides in May.

Arlington has just reported a new record number of 14 million visitors who came to enjoy the city’s attractions last year.

According to a study completed by the international tourism research firm Longwoods Travel USA, those guests spent an estimated $1.4 billion in the city.

It was just under $600 million just five years ago. That comes to a growth rate averaging $160 million every year.

The report includes findings that say more than half the visitors stayed overnight. Actually they stayed an average of 3.2 nights and didn’t just spend their money at the entertainment venues.

That made lodging businesses the largest beneficiaries of the growing industry, taking in $481 million or 34 percent of the revenue generated by their guests.

The next biggest sector of the local economy enjoying the trend was the food and beverage business, which received $334 million, almost 25 percent of the total.

Visitors like to shop. Retailers garnered $224 million in sales; recreation and entertainment entities collected $184 million, and the transportation sector, $166 million.

Decima Mullen, senior director of marketing and public relations for the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau, explained how the city acts on the findings of the report: “We use the results of this study to gather visitor information and assess the impact of our ongoing tourism efforts.

“This is a positive testament that those efforts are continuing to build upwards, creating a stronger economy for our community while consistently offering our visitors memorable experiences.”

Learning that almost seven out of 10 visitors who participated in the study said they were “very satisfied” with their overall experience in Arlington leads to two quick conclusions.

First, 70 percent is an impressive number, so the whole tourism family of businesses can feel good about the job they are doing. But, that also provides incentive to further enhance the focus on customer satisfaction so that everybody leaves with plans to return.

Almost everyone is familiar with the obvious attractions that define the visitor industry in the city. But the staff at the CVB is always working to see that people discover all the rest of the things they can do when they come to town.

For example:

Downtown Arlington is undergoing a major transformation. Once you navigate the construction activity, there’s shopping, dining and entertainment that is attracting more people all the time.

A few blocks away is the University of Texas at Arlington College Park Center, now home to the WNBA Dallas Wings and the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams that play there.

The River Legacy Living Science Center serves at the gateway to the adjacent 1,300-acre River Legacy Park and access to the Trinity River. From the overlooks along the eight miles of trails, visitors can discover that the region’s major waterway is very different from the one they see when passing over the bridges that traverse it.

As the bureau and convention center staff continue to promote opportunities like these and many more outside the boundaries of the entertainment district, these impressive numbers of visitors and the economic activity they bring will continue to expand.

What the city needs in dealing with this increased activity is for the new interchange at Interstate Highway 30 and Texas 360 to be completed on schedule — or sooner, if possible.

In the meantime, the welcome mat is out at every entrance to the city.

Judging by these numbers, it’s having to be replaced regularly from being worn down by so many people stepping on it as they make their way into town.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.