The economy over the past decade hasn’t been kind to many Americans but in Arizona there’s one industry that’s doing just fine.
“They say nothing in life is free, but I say just look around you,” said Vince Trinidad, director of sports develpoment for the Tucson Sports Commission. “Arizona is just so beautiful with the lakes, rivers, and various mountain ranges. It doesn’t cost much just to go outside.”
According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, the Grand Canyon National Park, South Mountain Park, Glen Canyon National Park, and Lake Mead combined to attract nearly 10 million people in 2011. That’s just over a million more than the four combined to attract in 2010, and nearly 1.5 million more than in 2009
The state’s overall income from the travel industry has increased from $13.3 billion brought in in 2002 to nearly $18 billion in 2010 just from the various national parks and campgrounds around the state according to the Arizona Office of Tourism. The state as a whole last year earned $16.4 billion just on out-of-state travelers alone, also according to the Arizona Office of Tourism.
“People just want to get the most for their money nowadays,” said Jon Schmieder, president of the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission. “I think when (someone thinks to themselves) ‘look do I want to go to a baseball game or basketball game and sit for three hours or go to a park and ride a bike or hike a trial and enjoy the sun while getting in shape for the same or cheaper price?’ I think you’re starting to see people choose that second option.”
Schmieder works all over the state of Arizona setting up various recreational events: from youth soccer tournaments, triathlons, to charity golf events. According to Schmieder, there are very specific reasons why he choses to run the events he does.
“You look at these activities like golf and soccer tournaments and you don’t just get the participants playing in these events, you also get their families and friends,” said Schmieder. “So not only is mom going to buy Billy the cleats he needs to play soccer, but she’s going to buy him and his friends hot dogs and smoothies after they win too.”
Schmieder went on to point out that with these tournaments, not only does the event get teams from all over Arizona coming to compete, but also teams from out of state travel and bring their money into the mix.
“I think if you notice, we sell Arizona based on the outdoors,” said Schmieder. “We don’t have cities like Washington D.C. or New York City with all the big buildings. We have natural beauty and provide the opportunity for people to live fun, active lives here.”
Arizona’s recent recreational economic growth isn’t something that’s happened by accident, according to Brent Seebohm, a sports tourism professor at the University of Arizona.
“(Arizona) has to play to its strengths,” said Seebohm. “This is a transplant state, so really when we market (Arizona’s) hot spots it has to be to people that don’t live here.”
Aside from amateur sporting events, one of the state’s greatest assists is the prestige it owns within the biking community. Arizona is ranked the 16th best biker friendly state in the nation, according to the League of American Bicyclists, with the City of Tucson also ranking within the top 10 biker friendly cities in the United States.
“Arizona’s been very smart with the marketing strategy I think because they (have) focused on their strongest asset and really hammered it home,” Seebohm said. “When you’re known for something, there’s a better chance you’re going to be remembered.”
Seebohm said because biking can be an individual sport explains why the recreation industry as a whole is still growing even in the most rural areas of Arizona. Greenlee Country is the least populated county in the state with 8,353 people. Despite this, the county’s overall recreational revenue has increased by 18 percent in just one year’s time.
“It’s just practical,” said Trinidad, director of the Tucson Sports Commission, who has helped set up more than 10 bicycle related events in Arizona, including the El Tour de Tucson for two consecutive years. “Not only do we have the weather and the landscape to make the sport popular, but it’s something a person of almost any age can participate in young or old.”
Since 2008, the City of Tucson has been named a “Gold Star Bicycle Community” twice and bicycle ridership has increased 58 percent over that same period, according to tucsonaz.gov.
“I love riding (my bike) now,” said 22 year-old Tucson resident Camden Goordjan. “Where I’m from (Las Vegas, Nevada), it’s not always that easy to ride with all the traffic and everything.”
While bicycling is a growing phenomenon in Arizona — both Scottsdale and Phoenix recently joined Tucson on the Top 20 bicycle friendly city list — there’s still work to be done, according to Schmieder.
“I think you look at bigger cities in Arizona (Scottsdale and Phoenix) and you wouldn’t really think of them as big time bicycle places,” Schmieder said. “That just means we as a state need to do a better job of marketing that. We need to show it off.”
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