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Promoting Arizona tourism during pandemic: Is it the right move?

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Posted at 2:51 PM, Dec 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-06 19:35:58-05

Some public health experts are speaking out against recent actions that promote out-of-state tourism to Arizona as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU bed use continue to spike.

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Dr. Shad Marvasti, who leads public health programs at UArizona’s Phoenix medical campus, calls current tourism marketing efforts “unethical and irresponsible.”

“To advertise for people during the height of the pandemic numbers and surge to come to our state, as if — not only are we a playground but we’re also going to be a breeding ground for COVID-19,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey announced a new program offering financial assistance to restaurants to expand outdoor seating capacity. Last month, the Governor allocated $4 million of federal CARES Act funding to the Arizona Office of Tourism to create a strategic recovery plan and bolster marketing efforts in other states, especially those within driving distance.

Steve Chucri, President of the Arizona Restaurant Association and a Maricopa County supervisor, recently told ABC15 the ARA was working with the state tourism office to launch a digital restaurant marketing campaign in other states, including California.

Chucri, tourism officials and other industry stakeholders said in recent interviews the marketing campaigns will focus on promoting new health and safety measures at hotels, resorts, restaurants and other attractions and offer options for travelers of varying comfort levels. A separate AOT marketing campaign — “Rediscover Arizona” — is focused on promoting staycations and outdoor attractions to existing state residents.

This past week, Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 response, again urged Americans not to travel.

“With the upcoming winter holidays, it is important for people to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible,” he said during a news briefing. “CDC recommends that the best way to protect yourself and others is to postpone travel and stay home.”

The holidays typically mark the beginning of Arizona’s tourism season. Chucri estimates since the start of the pandemic, restaurants statewide have lost out on more than $2 billion which has led to tens-of-thousands of workers being laid off.

Marvasti said while he understands the economic and unemployment concerns, the dynamics of traveling — including how one travels, what they do, and where they stay and eat — can still be high risk. Visitors also introduce new variables into a community, he said.

“Instead of the state using resources to advertise the fact that we’re open, why don’t we use some of the money — the $3-billion from the CARES Act — to actually pay these businesses to temporarily close their indoor activities?”