As we celebrated Memorial Day weekend, travel was on the minds of many Oklahomans as they headed out of town for a short adventure or made plans for this year’s big summer vacation.

But in Oklahoma, travel is more than just summer fun. Tourism is the state’s third-largest industry. In 2016, total direct travel spending by an estimated 22 million visitors was $8.6 billion, according to new research released by the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department.  

Tourism in the state directly supports 100,000 jobs that reflect earnings of $2.2 billion — both record highs for Oklahoma’s tourism industry. It is notable that both of these data points have increased annually for seven straight years despite the economic downturn Oklahoma experienced during that period.

“Tourism is an important driver for Oklahoma’s economy, helping to diversify and increase our jobs and employee earnings,” Gov. Mary Fallin said. “While some of our key industry sectors have seen volatility in recent years, the travel-and-tourism industry has experienced consistent growth.”

Tourism generated $627 million in state and local tax revenue for 2016 — the equivalent of $410 for each Oklahoma household. That number represents taxes paid by visitors that fund the core functions of government, displacing taxes that state residents would otherwise pay.

“I visit all 77 counties each year, and I’ve seen firsthand how important of an impact tourism has in each one,” said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who is chairman of the Tourism Commission. “The jobs and dollars generated by the industry are vital to rural Oklahoma just as they are in the big cities.”

According to Dick Dutton, executive director of OTRD, the Department has begun using new tools to modernize its marketing efforts and increase efficiency, allowing it to maximize returns on taxpayers’ money in the most cost-effective ways possible.

“These added research tools help the Department to evaluate marketing campaigns in a quicker and more effective manner,” Dutton said. “This allows for improved decision-making and enables the Department to better target potential visitors.”

The state’s return on investment off of tourism remains high. The Department’s 2017 spring marketing campaign produced a 6-to-1 return on investment in state and local tax revenue.

The Department’s research was conducted by three industry-leading research firms: TNS Global Market Research, Dean Runyan Associates and Longwoods International.

To read the full research reports, visit