NewsArizona News


Some parts of Arizona's travel industry still struggling as others roar back to life

Sky Harbor Airport
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 08:54:48-04

PHOENIX — The travel industry is roaring back to life in Arizona, but not all parts of the industry are recovering at the same rate.

Every few minutes, like clockwork, you'll see a shuttle leaving the parking lot at PreFlight Airport Parking, located just north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

"It's been great," explains manager Mike Bechdel. "We've crushed numbers that we've never seen before."

For Bechdel, it's a welcomed change from what he saw last year.

"2020 was bad," he explains. "At our lowest of lows, we were down 80% from 2019. It was horrible."

But this year, it's a much different story. To keep up with demand, Bechdel says employees are getting overtime pay, they're hiring new drivers, and may even open up their overflow parking just to accommodate all the air travelers passing through Sky Harbor.

Bechdel says so far, 2021 is shaping up to be their best year yet with 20% more bookings than what they saw at this point in 2019.

But as thrilled as Bechdel is to see his shuttles full again, economists say not all sectors are feeling the good news.

"It's going to take a little bit of time," explains Dr. George Hammon, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona. "A couple of months here to get used to going back to doing the things we all did before the pandemic hit."

Dr. Hammond says one of those sectors is the hotel industry which isn't quite where it was at this point in 2019.

"Overall hotel occupancy is recovering nicely, but it's still below where we'd expect it to be this time of year."

Dr. Hammond says one thing that causing the lag is that business travel has vanished for many industries, with some companies still deciding to keep things virtual, at least for now, out of both safety and financial concern.

"We don't know what companies and businesses will feel comfortable with doing. And what's going to be most cost-effective. We still will see large business gatherings and conferences. They may be different. They may be hybrid. Part of it streamed. And part of it is only in person. and some of it is a combination of the two."

"It is big business in our metro areas but it also plays a role in Flagstaff and Sedona and Prescott," explains Becky Blaine, Deputy Director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. "And usually, when meetings come to town, there is time pre- or post-meeting where the attendees will go out and explore Arizona, so then our rural destinations are really feeling the hit as well."

But Blaine says despite the slow recovery in business travel to our state, overall, Arizona tourism is on the right track.

"We know we are seeing that uptick in travel across the state and we are preparing for more. The data shows that 90% of travelers have a trip planned in the next six months."

That's music to Bechdel's ears.

"It feels great," he explains. "I love it. I come to work every day and love seeing how full the lot is."

The Arizona Office of Tourism says travel for Memorial Day Weekend in Arizona surpassed 2019 and 2020, so they are confident the upcoming 4th of July weekend will be another busy one.

In fact, places like PreFlight and other parking facilities expect to be at or near capacity, so the recommendation is to reserve your spot in advance.