Arizona tourism surges, visitor spending reaches all-time high

Visitor spending reached an all-time high for Arizona last year, and is expected to be even higher by the end of 2014.

Last year, 39.1 million visitors spent a record $19.8 billion in counties across the state, said Sherry Henry, executive director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.

This surge in tourism generated local, state and federal tax revenues that directly benefitted the state and created more than 160,000 industry-related jobs.

Henry said she believes the tourism boom is not the result of any one cause, but of many factors, including a growing economy and increased advertising.

Upcoming events and festivals in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff. - Created by Alison Dorf/Arizona-Sonora News Service
Upcoming events and festivals in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff. – Created by Alison Dorf/Arizona-Sonora News Service

“We’re still coming out of that [recession], but in 2013 I think you had a number of really positive things happening,” Henry said. “One was that people were beginning to travel more because they felt more comfortable that they could use their discretionary income.”

The record-breaking number of visitors spent enough money last year to generate $1.6 billion in local and state travel taxes, nearly enough to cover the salaries of all police officers, firefighters and secondary school teachers in Arizona, according to statistics from the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Certain counties brought in more visitors than others, including Maricopa, Coconino, Yavapai and Pima.

Joanne Hudson, public relations specialist for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau in Coconino County, said tourism statistics are back to “pre-recession numbers.”

Hudson said it is clear to see how tourism affects the city of Flagstaff because of a BBB tax – shorthand for bed, board and booze. For every hotel, restaurant or bar tab, the city collects an additional 2 percent in tax revenue, roughly 60 percent of which funds quality of life services including economic development and public parks and recreation, Hudson said.

Last year, the tourism industry generated more than 11,000 jobs in Coconino County alone. Hotel occupancy in Flagstaff also has increased significantly over the past few years, something Hudson said she attributes to both a better economy and Flagstaff’s proximity to the Grand Canyon — two “iconic destinations.”

The U.S. National Park Service estimated that the Grand Canyon attracted 4.5 million visitors last year. Sedona, 30 miles from Flagstaff, is also a high tourism driver, with between 2 million and 4 million visitors per year, according to the City of Sedona website.

The state also lures in tourists from around the world and the state to a handful of festivals including the Tucson Festival of Books, which executive director Marcy Euler said is the fourth largest book festival in the country.

Since the book festival began six years ago, the number of attendees has increased from 50,000 in 2009 to more than 130,000 in 2013, she said.

Euler said she knows tourists from outside the country are attending the festival because she receives feedback from all over the world.

Though tourism data is only available on a quarterly basis, Henry said projections for visitor spending and tourist stays are expected to continue rising in 2015.

“We own the sun, and we own that beautiful weather,” Henry said, adding that besides a more robust economy, the diversity of the Arizona landscape is a huge factor in attracting tourists.

“With the exception of a beach,” she said, “there is not anything that you want to experience

that you cannot do in Arizona. It has literally everything.”

 

Contact reporter at dorfa@email.arizona.edu or follower her on Twitter at @AlisonRaeDorf.

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