Arizona tourism officials unveil recovery plan

Posted at 6:36 AM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 10:29:05-04

The Arizona Office of Tourism unveiled a strategic recovery plan this week to help offer resources and guide thousands of state businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Debbie Johnson, AOT director, told ABC15 the more-than-40-page plan offers strategies and tactics in three key areas moving forward:

  • Increasing urban business and leisure travel once the virus in under control
  • Marketing travel destinations in rural and tribal lands
  • Conveying measures being taken to keep workers, visitors and residents safe

The pandemic follows a record-breaking year for the Arizona tourism industry. According to research compiled for the state tourism office, in 2019, Arizona hosted more than 47 million overnight visitors with tourists spending more than $25 billion. The industry supported close to 200,000 jobs and tax dollars accounted for approximately 10% of the entire state budget, the study found.

“What these numbers really do for the future is it gives us a baseline that we know, as an industry, that we can build back to,” Johnson said.

AOT believes Arizona is positioned for a faster recovery in the tourism sector due to the range of activities — both indoor and outdoor — that are available. Johnson said hotels saw a slight uptick in occupancy in early June but, at the start of July, levels again dropped substantially. In March, AOT estimated approximately half of all tourism workers had either lost their jobs or been placed on furlough.

In 2019, the research found around 6.1 million international travelers visited Arizona, an increase of 3.8% over 2018. Those visitors typically stay longer and spend more, Johnson said, but due to travel restrictions and concerns about the virus, she does not expect that number to rebound until at least 2022.

In April, AOT unveiled a new campaign called “Rediscover Arizona” marketed to residents and touting hiking areas, excursions and resorts offering increased safety measures as “staycations.” When appropriate, Johnson said the office hopes to expand that campaign to neighboring states including California, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado — all within driving distance.

Much of the short-term recovery will be based on how quickly the virus is under control and events and other large gatherings are able to take place, she said.

“The events industry can make up to 70% of a hotel’s occupancy and revenue, so having those meetings and groups being able to come back and travel is critical,” Johnson told ABC15.

Approximately 800 travel-oriented businesses and marketing experts took part in the “Governor’s Conference of Tourism” on Wednesday where the recovery plan was unveiled. Despite the uncertainty, Johnson is confident the sector is well-positioned to recover in Arizona.

“We’re a resilient industry. We have seen challenges before, and I think we’re going to do what we always do — we’re going come together and we’re gonna get through this,” she said.