Arizona tourism saw record year in 2019, strategizes for comeback

Before the coronavirus, Arizona’s tourism industry saw four years of record-breaking growth, with 2019 the most successful yet, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism’s (AOT) annual economic report released Wednesday. 

Visitors to the state last year generated $70 million a day, or more than $25 billion for the year. Job numbers and tax revenues supported by tourism reached new highs. Visitors from Mexico, the state’s top international market, spent more than $3 billion. 


Total Overnight Visitation: 46.8 million (Up 2.8 percent from 2018)
Visitor Spending: $25.6 billion (Up 4.7 percent) 
Tax Revenue: $3.78 billion (Up 4.2 percent)
Jobs: 194,300 (Up 1 percent)
Earnings: $7.7 billion (Up 3.7 percent)

These and other data were released Wednesday during the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The conference also featured strategies for the industry’s recovery from the pandemic. 

“While we’re very focused on the recovery of our industry during the next year, this 2019 data helps reinforce the critical role a strong tourism industry plays in Arizona’s economic re-energization,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the AOT. 

About 850 people from the state’s travel and hospitality industry tuned in virtually to attend the event. 

New marketing tactics helped showcase the state

Arizona’s stellar year for tourism in 2019 was the result of a great economy but also new approaches to marketing, Johnson said.  

“Instead of a single straight message, now we talk about the seasonality in our state. We have such geographic diversity. In March, you can ski in Flagstaff in the morning and then come down to the Valley and golf in the afternoon.”

Financial free fall for industry in 2020 

Attendees also got a snapshot of how the industry is faring in 2020. Revenues are down significantly in all sectors, according to data compiled for the AOT. 

For example, average daily revenue for lodging was down 14 percent in June compared to last year and down 10 percent for the year so far. Airport traffic saw an 85 percent drop in May and is down 47 percent for the year. 

Tax revenues also are suffering. In 2020, the loss of tourism revenue is expected to create a $284 million net loss to the state’s general fund.

Celebrating last year’s success 

There was some solace in reflecting on last year’s success at the conference, Johnson said. In 2019, visitors spent a record $25.6 billion, up 4.7 percent over 2018. 

Here are some key takeaways from 2019 data: 

Industry supported more than 360,000 jobs in Arizona

Spending by Arizona visitors directly generated a record 194,300 tourism industry jobs last year. When combined with indirect and induced employment, the travel industry-supported 361,300 Arizona jobs.

Record tax revenues from tourism

Record visitor spending generated another milestone — a record $3.78 billion in combined local, state and federal tax revenue. That reduced the annual tax burden by $1,400 for every Arizona household.

International visitor numbers up

Last year, Arizona welcomed 6.1 million international overnight visitors, an increase of 3.8 percent over 2018. Visitor volume increased 5.2 percent from Mexico, the state’s top international market, with 4 million overnight visitors. Arizona’s top five overseas visitor markets were Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and China.

Strategic recovery plan for tourism

The AOT also unveiled its Tourism Strategic Recovery Plan at the event that offers specific tactics and guidance to help destinations and communities recover from the pandemic.   

Presenters spoke about different strategies for recovery as travel becomes safer to attract visitors to outdoor destinations, metro Phoenix and Tucson, and rural and tribal areas. 

Suggestions for industry marketing efforts recommend a three-step strategy for recovery:

-First, market directly to Arizonans for vacations and weekend getaways within the state while travel remains restricted. To help get the word out, the AOT launched a new Rediscover Arizona campaign in May to encourage residents to visit outdoor and scenic destinations across the state.  

-Second, reach out to visitors that live within six hours of Arizona’s favorite destinations.  

-Finally, focus on marketing to target cities like Denver, Dallas and Chicago once air travel is considered safe again.   

For now, there are no plans to market to the international market, Johnson said. But there is hope that the market can return in 2021.

New Leave No Trace partnership to protect scenic views  

During the conference, AOT also had a presentation on it’s new partnership with Leave No Trace, whose mission is to educate visitors about sustainable tourism practices. The full report and a video of the conference and all the sessions will become available over the next week at: Arizona Office of Tourism.

Victoria Harker

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