Gaming, out of doors recreation are Oklahoma’s massive tourism attracts

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Casino gaming and a range of attractive outdoor recreation options have bolstered Oklahoma’s tourism industry during the pandemic, a new report shows. (Photo by Jake Melara via Unsplash)

Casino gaming and a range of attractive outdoor recreation options have bolstered Oklahoma’s tourism industry during the pandemic, a new state report shows. Tourism generated $7.1 billion in direct spending within the state in 2020 and attracted 17 million visitors.

Statewide, the pandemic reduced travel by 34% in 2020 compared to 2019, but Oklahoma’s visitor volume fell by just 17%. In fact, Oklahoma gained slightly more domestic travel market share, rising from 1.5% in 2019 to 1.9% in 2020.

Visiting friends and family was the top motivation for most trips to Oklahoma, and was listed as the reason for 45% of trips in the state, but visitors meeting loved ones only spend about $327 per trip. On the other hand, casino gaming — the second-biggest attraction in the state, listed as a motivator for 20% of trips to Oklahoma — generated an average spend of $668.

Outdoor recreational athletes spent the most per trip, averaging $693. Outdoor recreation was cited as a top motivation for 19% of visitors to the state in 2020.

As a portion of travelers visiting the state, the percentage of outdoor recreation has nearly tripled due to the pandemic, rising from 5% in 2019 to 13% in 2020.

Oklahoma State Parks reported record visitor numbers, attracting more than 5 million visitors in the three months between April and June 2020. About 3 million visited the state parks from April to June 2019.

“Those of us who live here have always known how incredible the outdoors in Oklahoma is,” said Lt. gov. Matt Pinnell, Secretary of State for Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage, in a statement announcing the new study. “At a time when many felt safer outdoors, many international travelers were also given the chance to experience this beauty—fishing our lakes, hiking our trails and climbing our peaks.”

“Summer travel was boosted by pent-up travel demand after the pandemic lockdowns in the second quarter — primarily driven by out-of-state travelers,” said the report, which was compiled by Hawaii-based Omnitrak Group Inc. 70% of Oklahoma travel is from July to September 2020, the report shows.

Most people who travel in Oklahoma are visiting friends and family, accounting for 35% of out-of-state visitor travel and 32% of in-state travel by Oklahomans.

But the industry that pulls in the most money from overseas visitors is by far casino gambling.

“Oklahoma visitors are more likely to enjoy casinos and gaming and less shopping than all US travelers,” the report said. “Casino/gaming is more than twice as popular with overseas visitors than domestic visitors.”

Out-of-state visitors are much more likely to gamble than locals. While 24% of out-of-state visitors reported casino gaming during their visit, only 10% of Oklahomans reported gambling while traveling within-state.

Casino gaming was reported as a top activity by 18% of visitors from outside the state of Oklahoma. For the US as a whole, casino gaming is listed as a top activity for only 6% of travelers.

The second most reported activity for visitors to Oklahoma was shopping, which attracted 15% of out-of-state visitors and 11% of in-state visitors. Less than 13% of out-of-state visitors said other activities, including sightseeing, camping, or visiting state parks, were their main activities while in the state.

Most Oklahoma trips in 2020 appear to be impromptu trips fueled by cabin fever. About 66% of domestic travelers and 49% of international visitors said they plan their trip less than two weeks in advance, accounting for the majority of all trips to Oklahoma in 2020. Trips planned two to four weeks later accounted for only 19% of visitors in advance and trips planned six months in advance accounted for just 7%.

“Uncertainty and seemingly ever-changing market conditions caused by the pandemic resulted in shorter travel decision windows in 2020, with nearly half (49%) of domestic trips receiving the ‘green light’ within two weeks of departure,” the statement said Report. “Travellers visiting Oklahoma chose to visit even closer to their travel date compared to domestic travelers overall, which is likely due to the fact that most visitors to Oklahoma are either residents of the state or a neighboring state.”

At 28.6%, Texas accounts for by far the largest proportion of travelers planning a vacation trip to Oklahoma within the next two years. In comparison, the next largest percentage of travelers planning a trip in Oklahoma within the next two years are Oklahoma residents at 9.5%, Californians at 7.9%, and Kansans at 5.1%.