Arizona’s tourism industry showcases the state’s best

I spent some time at the Waste Management Phoenix Open this year. While I was officially on the clock visiting with current and prospective members and company representatives considering Arizona for investment, I’ll admit it’s not the toughest aspect of my job.

While my chamber of commerce counterparts in the Midwest were shivering in the polar vortex in late January, I was debating whether to wear open or closed-toe shoes.

The idyllic climate that allows me to work outside occasionally and helps drive record-breaking attendance at the Greatest Show on Grass is just one element of the job-creating juggernaut that is Arizona’s tourism industry.

We are in the midst of Arizona tourism’s busiest season. We’re still in the early days of 2019, and already hundreds of thousands of fans have enjoyed the Open, while car fanatics from all over the country descended on Barrett Jackson and six other auto auctions across state that sold an estimated total of $251 million worth of cars over the course of a week, up about 1.2 percent from the previous year.

Those events are on top of college bowl games like the Fiesta Bowl and the Cheez-It Bowl, and pitchers and catchers are reporting soon for the start of another Cactus League season. The W.P. Carey School at ASU estimates that spring training in 2018 generated an eye-popping $644 million in economic activity. Out-of-town visitors coming to watch their teams are estimated to spend over $122 million on just food and drink alone.

Not only does Arizona host 15 MLB teams in the spring, but we’re home to all four professional sports leagues, whose teams are a critical part of Arizona’s global brand. Wherever I go in the world, someone always wants to talk about the hometown team, which inevitably leads to a conversation about all the other great things the state has to offer.

Tourism is big business, sometimes what’s referred to as a base industry, meaning that it sells to customers beyond our borders. In 2017, tourism was the number 1 export industry throughout the state, and it supports nearly 200,000 jobs each year.

According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, nearly 44 million people visited Arizona in 2017 and they collectively spent $22.7 billion, or $62 million per day. The $3.37 billion in tourism-generated tax revenues that year amounted to an annual savings of $1,293 for every Arizona household.

Tourism also strengthens our partnerships with two of our largest trade partners, Mexico and Canada.

Of the over five million international tourists who came here in 2016, 3.8 million visitors came to Arizona from Mexico, and over 875,000 from Canada. Through travel-related spending, Mexico alone supported over 100,000 jobs and contributed $2.5 billion in economic impact. Cross-border travel is absolutely vital to our border communities in Southern Arizona, where visitors from Mexico contributed between 60-70 percent of those cities’ sales tax revenues.

Those global connections are growing. American Airlines’ new direct service between Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and London, which was originally planned as a seasonal route, is going to be year-round thanks to such strong interest from European travelers, business and leisure.

We don’t achieve these results just because we’re lucky to have nice winter weather. Arizona’s tourism leaders are some of the nation’s best. Arizona Office of Tourism Director Debbie Johnson and Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO Kim Sabow are not only two of the tourism industry’s finest professionals, but Arizona couldn’t ask for better brand ambassadors.

And if there’s anyone who knows about building a brand, it’s Gov. Doug Ducey. His fiscal year 2020 budget proposal calls for important investments that will make Arizona tourism even better, including an increase in dollars to the Arizona Office of Tourism, and $130 million to improve Interstate 17 between Anthem and Sunset Point, an area known by travelers to and from the high country for its weekend congestion and accidents. Under the governor’s plan, not only will I-17 be more efficient, but it will be much safer.

The New York Times last month featured Scottsdale as part of its “36 Hours” travel series. But Arizona has so much to offer its visitors that the Times could focus on some part of Arizona every week if it wanted to and have plenty of material, from stunning natural beauty, to professional sports, to world-class resorts and restaurants.

If you’re a longtime resident, I hope you’ll take the time this to year to revisit some of your favorite places and maybe explore some new ones. And go ahead and invite those friends and family from out of town, too.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Glenn Hamer

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