Tourism on the rise in southern Arizona

Tourism on the rise in southern Arizona
Gates Pass a popular tourist spot in southern Arizona. (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A new report issued by Visit Tucson shows an estimated 25,000 jobs in Pima County were supported by tourism in 2017, up from the previous 22,000.

It's become apparent Tucson is seeing a resurgence in tourism following some less than stellar years after the loss of major league baseball and the Accenture Match Play Championships.

It was feared losing two high profile events meant the valley would also be losing tourism. If it did, it has bounced back.

"The season is really extending further out," said Dan Gibson, the communications director for Visit Tucson. "We're seeing sold out weekends in March and April already so it's a good time to be in tourism."

The study shows hotel occupancy increased 13 percent in 2017 over 2016 and more importantly, it increased every month year over year.

Those numbers reflect a healthy industry but other numbers, such as job growth overall, are still lagging.

The hope is a healthy tourism industry will filter down to other industries as well.

"You hope that those people find something in Tucson that leads them to want to stay," he said. "They might want to move here, start their business here or move their headquarters here."

Visit Tucson has invested heavily in marketing in cold weather locations like Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York. It appears to be paying dividends.

"The average visitor spends $277 a day in the market," Gibson said. "That's a real direct influx of money."

The Gem Show, which is also adding shows and vendors, may add up to $150 million to the Tucson economy.

Gibson points out the Gem Show customers likely add more to the economy because of the expense of the items they purchase.

Dan Miller, a retired geologist from Portland who has come to Tucson every year for 13 years, is a prime example.

"I leave several thousand bucks every time I come here," he said. "That's just to buy things to take home and does not include meals and hotels."

Jerushka Costello, an artist visiting Tucson also from Portland is likely more in line with the average tourist.

"We're going to stay in a hotel for two or three days," she said "We're traveling, so maybe it may be a bit more than that."

Jim Spangler from Dayton, Ohio is also visiting for the first time and has come away impressed.

"This is something to behold," he said peering out from Gates Pass.

Gibson says four out of five tourists come back to Tucson and Spangler is likely to be one of those.

"We're already talking should we come back for two months next year," he said. "We're here for one month this year but maybe two next year."

It's the new business and the old business which is likely why the industry has perked up and may add jobs and a better economic future.

"I've been coming here for 28 years," said Jeff Thomas, from Australia. "I've been coming for so long, I have friends here now."

Next year he said, he will be back.

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