State tourism shows improvement

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - An increase in tourism means an increase in revenue to the state.  While tourism has yet to reach the target that those in the industry would like, they said that they are pleased and that they see promise at the Governor's Conference on Tourism at J.W. Marriott Resort and Spa Thursday.

"Really, tourism is a key economic driver for the state, and we realize that. So, as we're promoting the great assets, we're also helping generate important tax revenues that are going to benefit all the citizens," said Mark Stanton, deputy director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.

"We know that when people come in, whether it be Phoenix or Tucson, and they come in for a big convention or a big group, they get out to those rural areas. So, we know that it benefits everybody. And, what's good for the residents is good for the residents as well," said Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association.

While state tourism leaders see the million-visitor increase from 2011 to 2010 and the state legislature's continuing $7 million support for the industry as good signs, southern Arizona continues to work to boost its numbers.  Tucson's "Visit Tucson" campaign is part of that effort.  Local resorts see the improvements at the state level as an indicator of what's to come to Tucson in a few years.

"At least it's going in the right direction. But it's not a real strong recovery as we're seeing in the rest of the state," said Brian Johnson, managing director of Loew's Ventana Canyon Resort.  "Our share can definitely improve. And what we're seeing is we're starting to see some of the corporations starting to book further out for '15 and '16 and that's a very, very good indicator."

"Tourism is always about relationships. And that's what this conference does. It facilitates and builds stronger relationships. And once you have that, I feel, the innovation really happens," said Alex Ahluwalia, general manager of the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa.

Brand USA is working to market the entire country internationally.  That effort will help steer visitors from other places to specific locations such as Tucson and southern Arizona.

Governor Jan Brewer did not attend the conference Thursday.  Arizona Department of Public Safety had determined that the weather made air travel unsafe for the governor.

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