Tag Archives: Debbie Johnson

HSMAI - Tourism

Female leaders rise up in Arizona tourism industry

It might surprise people to know that tourism generates more money for Arizona than aerospace, agriculture, microelectronics and mining.

And leading that $20-billion-a-year economic juggernaut are a bunch of women.

Debbie Johnson is president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, Sherry Henry is executive director of the Arizona Office of Tourism and Jay Parry is CEO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee. In addition, women lead three of the state most important and influential convention and visitors bureaus — Rachel Sacco in Scottsdale, Heidi Hansen in Flagstaff and Lorraine Pino in Glendale. On top of that, Cristin Barr of the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain is president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International; and Lynn Casebere, director of Catering at The Clubhouse at Tonto Verde, is president of the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International Arizona Chapter.

“HSMAI’s leaders have broken though the glass ceiling,” Casebere says. “There are 30 chapters in the Americas Region and 24 of them have female presidents, which is something to be proud of.”

Casebere expects to see even more women take leadership roles in the hospitality industry because female enrollment is increasing in hospitality schools around the country.

“We have a lot of strong female leaders in our state and think the tourism industry falls in line with what else is going on in our state,” Johnson says. “Arizona has some great examples of strong female leaders on both the political and business arenas. I think the tourism industry emulates that.”

But how did it happen? How did women come to dominate what was once a male-dominated industry in Arizona?

“Tourism offers a variety of tremendous opportunities such as flexibility, rapid career growth, continuing education opportunities and community involvement, all of which make this industry attractive for women,” Henry says. “Because of the career range of this industry, there are myriad opportunities for upward mobility. Most of the women in today’s tourism leadership began their careers either at an entry level position or in mid-level management. It was their dedication, passion, collaborative skills and the genuine focus on the customers’ needs, both externally and internally, that brought these women into leadership roles.”

Pino said one thing that has helped women get a leg up in the industry has been education. Seeing the value of tourism as one of the state’s biggest revenue generators, many Arizona colleges now offer degrees in hospitality, opening the door for stronger career opportunities.

“What the tourism industry really offers is transferable skills,” Johnson says. “If you’re willing to work hard, learn all aspects of the industry, you will be able to use those accumulated skills as you work your way up the ladder.”

Despite the differences between the genders, industry leaders says the qualities that make women effective leaders are not unlike the characteristics that make many men effective leaders.

“If you’re passionate about what this industry means to Arizona and want to see it succeed, then you’ll be an effective leader within it,” Henry says. “Women do have the added bonus of being nurturers by nature. Tourism is an industry where we take care of guests, offer industry comforts and provide the ultimate travel experience. It’s very similar to what women already do for families and friends, so this industry seems to be a very natural fit for many women.”

The professional growth opportunities, as well as the flexibility of the industry that contributes to work-life balance, makes this industry a solid career path for women, Henry says. Additionally, there is essentially a place in the hierarchy for every skill set available, which is also very appealing for women.

“The anecdotal stories about someone starting their career as a room attendant and working their way up to general manager are true,” Henry says. “Even my own story begins with me starting out as a carhop and working my way up to becoming the director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. If you have the passion for the industry there are virtually no limitations to what you can achieve.”

As tourism continues to be an economic engine for Arizona, today’s leaders say there will be event more opportunities for women to take on leadership roles in the industry.

“We are fortunate to have dedicated tourism leaders work together to deliver the passionate and caring spirit of the hospitality industry,” Pino says. “The women who have risen to key positions have set the bar and also opened doors for the next generation.”

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AzLTA capitalizes on state’s ability to host big events

Debbie Johnson thought she was just coming for a race at Phoenix International Raceway when she visited Arizona in April of 1986.

“I was living in Wyoming at the time,” recalls the president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association (AzLTA). “We flew back into Denver to drive up to Wyoming and got stuck because it was snowing so hard the roads were closed. I decided right then and there that I was moving and moved to Arizona the following year.”

Now, as leader of the leading public policy advocate for Arizona’s lodging and tourism industry, Johnson hopes to keep other visitors coming back to the Grand Canyon state.

Az Business talked tourism with the woman who played a key role in the state’s ability to land hosting duties for this year’s Super Bowl, the 2016 College Football Championship Game and the 2017 Final Four.

Az Business: Why did the AzLTA decide to get political in 2014?

Debbie Johnson: We have been involved in previous elections, but on a much smaller scale. I think we’ve seen over the past several years the importance of getting involved and, obviously, this was a big election. With the direction of our board, we looked at it and said, “This is a time we need to get involved,” and that’s what we did.

AB: How did AzLTA’s political role look?

DJ: We looked for candidates who were supportive of tourism. We looked at issues. While we didn’t endorse candidates, we did do (political action committee) PAC dollars and we donated $12,000 in PAC funds. We designated tourism champions instead of endorsements and made sure our industry knew who was supportive of tourism. We decided that it was worth the risk you take sometimes when you get involved in elections.

AB: Why was getting political in November more important than in previous elections?

DJ: We have seen some issues come up over the past few years and realized that we had not done as good a job as we could educating elected officials about the value of tourism. That was on us, so we really wanted to take that role and educate those people who are going to be the leaders of our state about the value and importance of tourism so they have a better understanding. I think we also educated our members so they understand that elected officials have hundreds of issues on their desks every year. For us it’s intuitive, but they don’t work in tourism, so it’s our job to make sure they are informed. The quality of life here is great because of the tourism industry, even from a residential standpoint. Letting elected officials know about the dollars the tourism industry brings, the jobs that it brings and the economic impact is important.

AB: How did you balance getting more political without burning any bridges?

DJ: We were careful. We met with virtually every candidate and got their thoughts and opinions on tourism. From our standpoint, we felt like we had done everything we could to educate them and it was worth the time, effort and the responsibility from the PAC funds to make sure we were recommending the right people as tourism champions and PAC dollar recipients.

AB: How did the elections go for the tourism industry?

DJ: All in all, we were pretty happy. There are always some unknowns, but we feel there is strong leadership in the governor’s office. We’ve got some legislators who understand our industry and will be there when we need them to listen. It’s all about building relationships and about us understanding them and them understanding us. Hopefully, when a tourism issue crosses their desks now, they will reach out because they’ve met us and heard of us and that’s something that we didn’t have before.

AB: What do political leaders need to know about how their actions impact your industry?

DJ: They need to realize that tourism impacts all business. We have a $2.9 billion tax revenue impact. That’s a lot of money. So the decisions they make not only affect the tourism industry, but ancillary businesses like home builders, realtors, car sales and other services.

AB: In the next three years, Arizona will host the three biggest events in sports. What is Arizona doing right to keep landing these mega events?

DJ: The organizations that schedule these events look at Phoenix as a great model. Phoenix is only the second city in history to host these three mega events back to back to back. The other city was New Orleans. It goes to show the collaboration we have as a tourism community, but as a business community and with the cities.

AB: What is the winning formula you’re using in pitch meetings?

DJ: One of the sales pitches we used for the Final Four was saying, “Look at all these events that we’ve successfully hosted. We deserve a chance to host a Final Four and we’re going to show you how to do it.” They really took to that. They looked at the things we did right with past events. When they were here for the Final Four site visit, there was not one thing the tourism community, business community, stadium could have done better. We rolled out the red carpet and showed them our hospitality, our leadership, our collaborative efforts and they were really impressed. It’s all the cities coming together to show the benefit of hosting events in Arizona. They want the fans and the athletes to have good experience and we give them a great experience. We have such a diverse offering in terms of activities and amenities and things to do — spring training, golf, Sedona, a trip to the Grand Canyon, we’ve now become a food and wine destination. We’ve proven that they’re going to have fun here.

AB: How do these mega event impact economic development?

DJ: Their first step in getting a business to move here is getting their leadership to visit here. Any time we can talk about Arizona as a place to visit and as a place to do business, that media perception of Arizona as a positive, wonderful place to work and live and visit is tremendous. The economic development groups know that the business leaders need to come here first  to see what we have to offer. If we put on the best face we can, people want to come back not just to visit, but to live and work.

Hiking Adventures - EAZ Fall-Winter 2012

Increasing tourism shows importance of Arizona’s brand

The latest data on Arizona’s tourism industry says that business is on the upswing, which is good news for a state looking to put the Great Recession in its rearview mirror.

According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, the number of people visiting Arizona has surged back to pre-recession levels, providing a much needed injection of adrenaline into Arizona’s economy.

When we talk about promoting “base” industries in Arizona, look no further than tourism, which is the ultimate export-oriented industry. According to AOT, visitors to Arizona brought with them nearly $20 billion in direct spending last year on things like hotel rooms, meals and attractions.

That’s big money, and the nearly 200,000 jobs the industry supports are critical to keeping Arizona’s economy humming, which is why protecting Arizona’s brand is so important.

When there are state controversies, it makes it more difficult for our convention and visitor bureaus to succeed. There is no better place than Arizona for events and vacations, but there is fierce competition among the states for conventions and retreats.

Fortunately, the work of leaders like AOT Director Sherry Henry, Chamber board member and Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association President Debbie Johnson and Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Moore has put one of our state’s most important job generators on solid footing.

What’s exciting is, as Director Henry told Capitol Media Services earlier this week, we still have room to grow. As Americans and international visitors (our neighbors in Mexico are our number one source of international visitors, Canada is number two) shake off the recession rust, more people are traveling. Attending the recent Governor’s Conference on Tourism gala dinner, I was struck by the level of talent possessed by the individuals assembled in the room who are so committed to growing the state’s profile and keeping Arizona at the top of the list for places people want to visit.

Next year is shaping up to be a big one for the state’s brand. The Super Bowl is coming to University of Phoenix Stadium for the second time (and to Arizona for the third time), and, thanks to leaders like Michael Bidwill, the NFL is bringing the Pro Bowl, too. Throw in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Spring Training, and the state is poised to break visitor records. Don’t be surprised if your relatives in Minnesota, where AOT is ratcheting up its marketing efforts, call looking for vacation ideas when they’re snowed-in as they watch the best in football, golf and baseball enjoy our gorgeous weather.

I’m convinced that tourism plants the seeds for future business opportunities. My first exposure to Arizona was as a tourist. Years later, when I escaped the freezing cold of Ithaca, New York to head to Arizona to check out law schools, I was hooked. Wherever and whenever I go outside the state, I’m heartened that Arizona is regarded as such an attractive destination. Business executives around the country tell me about golf trips and the visits to the resorts that they’ve made here. Earlier this week when I was in Denver, someone wanted to talk Spring Training. Half a world away in Israel a few weeks ago, in between my snorkeling expeditions, people shared with me their stories of visiting the Grand Canyon.

But tourists and convention planners have plenty of choices of where to spend their dollars. All of this is a good reminder that we all need to be vigilant about our profile outside our borders.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is committed to advancing Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy by advocating free-market policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all Arizonans.

Sky Harbor Airport

Sky Harbor Sets Record for Passengers

March 2014 was the busiest month in the history of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. More than 4 million passengers traveled through Phoenix Sky Harbor in March, 4,029,861 to be exact. That marked a 3.2 percent increase over March of 2013 and the first time the Phoenix airport has seen more than 4 million passengers in a single month.

“Spring Training, students on spring break, Arizona’s great weather and our state’s many attractions brought visitors to Phoenix in record numbers,” said Phoenix Aviation Director Danny Murphy. “Our tourism partners, such as hotels and rental car companies also enjoyed a tremendous spring travel season.”

“Valley hotels and resorts saw a 2.9 percent increase in occupancy in March 2014 compared to the previous March,” said Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association. “Tourists spend more than $19 billion every year in Arizona. An increase in the number of visitors to our state is good for everyone.”

In the first three months of this year, the Airport saw a 3.3 percent increase in passenger numbers compared to the same time period in 2013. April statistics for Sky Harbor are not yet available.

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Arizona hoteliers earn national awards

Arizona took center stage and took home two national awards at the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s (AH&LA) annual Stars of the Industry awards ceremony held this week in Washington, DC.

The “Outstanding Manager of the Year, Large Property” was awarded to Thomas Williams, Director of Guest Services at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Williams has been providing a welcoming experience for guests entering his property for the past 21 years. As the Director of Guest Services, he has put in place many new procedures to improve and enhance the arrival and departure experience, transportation, guest safety and much more. But he also cares about the internal guest and is truly devoted to the resort’s employees. He and his family cater an annual holiday feast and invite employees and even hotel guests who have no family in town.

Winning the Special Events, One-time Only, Medium Property, was the W Scottsdale for their CHILL event. CHILL at the W Scottsdale transforms the WET pool deck from November to January with Scottsdale’s first and only hybrid and eco-friendly outdoor ice skating rink. This event also includes live music performances, DJs, drink specials and special resort packages.

“I’m so proud to represent an industry in our state with so much talent and passion for excellence,” said AzLTA President & CEO, Debbie Johnson. “It’s wonderful that the hard work and dedication of these lodging professionals and properties is being recognized on a national level and I truly commend them for their accomplishments.”

Winners from the Arizona Stars of the Industry Awards luncheon hosted in December by the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association were then submitted to the AH&LA for national judging.

The Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association (AzLTA) is the leading public policy advocate for Arizona’s Lodging and Tourism Industries. Representing almost 40,000 rooms statewide and nearly 500 members, including hotels, resorts, attractions, destination marketing organizations, B&B’s and related Industry partners, AzLTA’s mission is to unify, protect, educate and promote the interests of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Industries.

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Restaurants serve super-sized economic impact

Think about the celebration that occurred after Arizona was awarded  the 2015 Super Bowl.

Much of that excitement came because of the economic impact the Super Bowl will have on the state. But the restaurant industry in Arizona generates revenue equivalent to hosting two Super Bowls a month.

“Restaurants are critical to Arizona’s visitor industry – and vice versa,” said Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association. “Arizona attracts more than 37 million visitors annually and dining is the No. 1 activity for those visitors. So the success of the two industries are definitely intertwined.”

Arizona’s restaurant industry, which included 8,885 eating and drinking places of business in 2011, is expected to rake in $10.5 billion in sales this year, according to the National Restaurant Association. Arizona’s restaurants also employ 262,200 people, roughly 10 percent of the state’s workforce. That number is projected to grow 15.9 percent by 2023 to 303,800 – translating into 41,600 new jobs in the industry.

“While the Recession claimed 500 Arizona restaurants, the industry that was born out of the recession was stronger and more resilient,” said Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association. “From 2007 on, Arizona’s industry sales have grown from $7.9 billion to $10.1 billion (in 2012) with extremely modest growth in the hungrier years of 2008-2010.”

Chucri said Arizona’s rate of restaurant sales growth, while once the top in the nation at 6.2 percent, is starting to fight its way back, growing at a little more than 3 percent each year, boosting this industry’s sales by an estimated $400 million annually.

“I think the restaurant community has stabilized and I sense an increasing confidence in the community,” said Steven Micheletti, CEO of Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill, which has five locations in Arizona and plans to add two more in the next year. “New restaurants are being built and being opened in interesting parts of the city. There is ongoing collaboration between great entrepreneurs happening, creating some great restaurant experiences. Operators are building restaurants in all types of buildings, creating really fun dining environments.”
A lot of the growth in Arizona’s restaurant industry is coming from entrepreneurs and chefs who are giving consumers different and unique dining experiences.
“Some of the strengths in Arizona’s restaurant industry include population growth, strong tourism, unmatched lifestyle and weather, and access to good produce,” said Russell Owens, president and COO of Fox Restaurant Concepts. “With all of these factors working together, there is more appeal for great chefs to come to Arizona to offer innovative new restaurants and fresh ideas. I think we are seeing more creativity today than over the last 20 years and this will positively shape the industry in Arizona for years to come.”

That influx of great chefs and innovative ideas has become an economic engine for the tourism industry.

“Scottsdale has seen a growth in chef-driven, independent restaurants, which are fueling our culinary scene,” said Rachel Pearson, vice president of community and government affairs for the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Not only do our resorts boast award-winning chefs and restaurants, but now you can drive to every corner of Scottsdale and find unique culinary experiences from well-known chefs.”

Not only are many of the new restaurants that are popping up utilizing fresh ideas and concepts, they are also beginning to increasingly rely on local produce and products to help serve their customers.

“Arizona visitors are really looking for a unique and distinct dining experience that they can’t get back home,” Johnson said. “So trends that we’re seeing in both hotel/resort restaurants as well as off-site restaurants include utilizing local ingredients and offering menu items and experiences that provide a taste of the local community.”

Micheletti has seen an increasing shift to supporting local farmers and growers, but the “Local First” trend doesn’t stop there.
“There’s also a growing influence of local crafted beers and wines,” he said. “Guests really are reading menus and asking questions about ingredients and sourcing. It’s not just about calories anymore.”

In addition to Arizona-grown ingredients, Chucri said one of the most transcendent trends he sees in the industry is the desire for healthy foods.

“The tendency towards more healthful items for the entire family illustrates that consumers are looking to restaurants for more than an indulgent special occasion meal,” he said. “Restaurants are becoming a part of consumers’ daily lives, an extension of their family. Whether it be a compliment dish for Easter dinner, a post-Little League party, or a got-home-too-late-to-cook family dinner, restaurants have infused themselves into the fabric of families everyday lives … a trend that is certain to stick around.”

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Tourism groups’ merger gives industry more strength and unity

Call it strength in numbers, or strength in unity.

“With the challenges that the tourism industry has faced over the past several years, our industry has had to come together to better vocalize the importance of tourism to Arizona’s economy,” says Debbie Johnson, a longtime advocate of Arizona tourism. “In doing so, it became evidently clear that the Arizona Tourism Alliance and the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association had virtually the same missions and goals and could have a stronger, more cohesive voice if united; so the conversations of mergers began amongst the two organization’s leadership.”

Those conversations led to the two groups combining forces early in 2012 to form the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association (AzLTA), with Johnson leading the charge as the group’s president and CEO. The new organization has a combined membership of almost 500 and has helped broaden the reach and scope of the tourism industry’s branding and message.

“Arizona must continue to think globally as well as act locally,” says Doug Yonko, executive vice president of communications for Hensley Beverage Co. and chairman of AzLTA’s board. “We are a premiere destination. However, competition for tourism dollars is fierce so we must stand together by working closely with the private and public sector and our legislature to ensure continued growth and increased market share of the tourism dollar.”

AzLTA’s leaders say the new supergroup will give the tourism industry the ability to speak from one unified voice, particularly on the legislative front, which will strengthen the industry.

“AzLTA unites hoteliers with key segments of the tourism industry — including Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, many state convention bureaus, private business and the Arizona Office of Tourism,” Yonko says. “The economic impact of the tourism industry affects most businesses at some level and — very importantly — our state tax revenue stream. The tourism and hospitality industry represents the second leading driver of our state’s economy, subsequently it is crucial that the business community and our legislature continue to recognize and support this pillar of our economy.”

Along those lines, the goal of the AzLTA is to work with and educate state legislators, offering training to those in the industry through workshops and seminars, and uniting those industries that are impacted by tourism. Its specific mission, Johnson says, is “to unify, protect, educate and promote the interests of the Arizona lodging and tourism industry.

“This mission is a combination of the missions of the former two groups, which were similar in structure and tone prior to the merger, but now have greater value after the merger,” she says. “AzLTA, and the Super PAC that the organization recently created, is now recognized as one of the leading industry voices in the state.”

AzLTA PAC is the state’s 25th Super Political Action Committee (PAC), which is expected to send a message to lawmakers about the strength and impact of tourism across the state. A Super PAC requires a minimum of 500 people to donate a minimum of $10 each. The funds can then be used to show support for candidates who understand the value of tourism to Arizona.

“AzLTA will have a seat at the table where policy is shaped that could directly or indirectly impact our ability to attract visitors and businesses to our state,” Johnson says. “It will ultimately raise the awareness that Arizona tourism is the catalyst to economic development,  job creation and tax revenue generation that positively impacts every Arizona resident.”

Enchantment Resort in Sedona - AZ Business Magazine Jan/Feb 2011

Studies Show That Every Dollar Invested In Tourism Returns At Least Double That Amount

Forests of Saguaro cacti lit by fiery red and orange sunsets, gun-toting cowboys staging shoot-outs, and the Grand Canyon’s striated walls looming over the Colorado River.

One would think these distinctly Arizona images could sell themselves. Unfortunately, Arizona’s tourism industry is learning the hard way that it takes more than just the state’s natural beauty and attractions to bring in visitors — it takes dollars.

“That’s why we need to be out there marketing Arizona, reminding people about what a great, wonderful, warm, welcoming destination we are,” says Debbie Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Tourism Alliance and president and CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association.

The recession caused Arizona’s once vibrant tourism industry to flounder, and in 2009, the stigma related to the corporate meetings industry continued the industry’s downward spiral.

“We weren’t just feeling the pain like everybody else. We were getting hit much more significantly than the nation overall,” says Mitch Nichols, president of Nichols Tourism Group, which provides research services to the tourism industry.

Visitor spending in Arizona decreased 10.6 percent, while the nation saw a decrease of just 4.4 percent, from 2007 to 2009. Additionally, Arizona lost $780 million in potential visitor spending because its share of national travel expenditures dropped from 2005 to 2008, according to Nichols Tourism Group.

In early 2010, the state Legislature dealt the industry a one-two punch when it passed SB 1070 and redirected funds from the Arizona Office of Tourism’s (AOT) budget to the general fund.

The Legislature redirected the tourism formula fund, which is composed of 3.5 percent of the state’s bed tax, 3 percent of the state’s amusement tax, and 2 percent of the state’s restaurant tax. This redirection will take approximately $28 million away from AOT over the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years.

In November 2010, the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, announced more bad news for Arizona’s tourism industry. In a study, it was reported that the controversial SB 1070 bill had cost the state $141.4 million in lost spending.

However, the industry isn’t down for the count.

Led by the Arizona Tourism Alliance, the tourism industry is campaigning to reclaim the budget, which it believes will help pull Arizona out of the recession and return millions of visitors to Arizona.




Arizona Inn in Tucson

Photo: Arizona Inn




While the long-term effects of SB 1070 on the tourism industry are hard to quantify, the budget redirection is projected to cost Arizona big.

Even the most conservative estimate puts the state’s losses at $26.7 million, but “actual revenue losses could potentially be many times this amount,” according to an independent study by Elliot D. Pollack & Co.

Nichols Tourism Group estimates the state could lose as much as $1.6 billion.

“You’re not finding $14 million. You’re creating a much bigger hole that will have to be funded in the future,” Nichols says.

The redirection of money decimated AOT’s marketing budget, allowing other states to sneak in and steal Arizona’s market share. These states recently discovered the tourism industry’s power to pull a state out of the recession.

“Some of our key competitors, California in particular, got much more aggressive in terms of the resources they were spending to try and convince visitors to choose California,” Nichols says.

Arizona is becoming out of sight, out of mind, and statistics prove it, Johnson adds.

From January to August 2010, the daily rate for Arizona hotel rooms declined 4.4 percent, while the nation’s daily rate only declined by 1 percent, and California’s daily rate declined by 1.1 percent, according to Nichols Tourism Group.

“Too often there’s a mindset that people will come whether or not you advertise. And we’ve got to increasingly ensure that kind of mindset does not carry the day,” Nichols says.

To remedy the industry’s declining revenue, Arizona’s Legislature needs to be reminded of what tourism means to the state. Tourism brings in revenue that funds education and many of the public services that are necessary during recessionary times.

The return on investment for every dollar spent on tourism marketing is seven to one, out-of-state studies show, according to the Pollack study.

In addition to pulling in revenue, the tourism industry directly and indirectly employs around 300,000 Arizonans, about 10 percent of the state’s work force.

Two key pieces of Arizona’s future, the economy and the work force, depend upon tourism. If the budget is restored, and soon, Arizona can rebound to pre-recession numbers within five years, Johnson says.

“Our destination has shown … that we can come back from adversity,” Johnson says. “We saw that after 9/11. (We were) one of the top five destinations, in terms of rebounding. I think we’re going to see that again because of what we have to offer, because we do have such a strong industry here. We’re a united industry. We work together and we come together in times like this. I think you’re going to see Arizona rebound.”

AZ Business Magazine Jan/Feb 2011

Meeting Planners Are Learning To Be Advocates - AZ Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

In Troubled Times, Meeting Planners Are Learning To Be Advocates For Their Industry

Politics, economic setbacks and disasters of all kinds pose constant threats to the meetings industry. But increasingly, MPI, its members and others associated with meeting planning, are taking steps to be advocates for their industry before problems arise. Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Company in St. Louis, wants her peers to “pay attention to what’s happening politically in Washington, as well as the effects of current events.”

Disasters such as an erupting volcano in Iceland or the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affect travel and have a trickle-down effect on every area of the industry.

“Now more than ever, there is a heightened sense of awareness of how connected we are in the world,” Duffy says.

An example of that are the boycotts against Arizona resulting from the state’s tough new immigration law, SB 1070.

Roger Rickard has been an MPI member for almost 20 years and is a partner in the California-based consulting firm REvent. He has dedicated his career to advocacy since Arizona’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday controversy in the early 1990s led to boycotts similar to today’s SB 1070 backlash.

While Rickard is clear that he does not represent MPI, he does believe that “we need to do more as an industry … if we don’t, we’ll become extinct.”

To that end, he has created Voices in Advocacy, which defines a strategy of how meeting and travel planners can advocate for themselves, including promoting and raising awareness for the industry using various tactics. In particular, the strategy details the significance of educating elected officials on the importance of the tourism industry, as well as the value of meetings.

“I aim to bring together members of all segments of this industry and help them set up meetings with officials to educate them,” Rickard says. “We want them to understand who we are and our value, and answer any questions they may have about what we do.”

Duffy adds that after 2008’s corporate meetings backlash, the US Travel Association became instrumental in advocating for the industry. The group released an ad pointing out the number of jobs lost in the industry (an estimated 1 million) due to the backlash. The association now serves as a powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

Rickard notes that it’s important to get out the hard facts about the positive benefits of the meetings industry. He points to an Oxford Economics study that found that for every dollar spent on business travel, the return to a company’s bottom line is $12.50.

Theresa Davis, director of strategic communications with MPI national, adds that the organization’s research-based initiative, Meetings Deliver, “provides a comprehensive analysis of independent research conducted during the past two years on the value of meetings.”

She says it is critical for MPI members to “commit to speaking the ‘language of business’ by providing solid business arguments that speak to strategic meetings management from procurement and programming to measuring ROI, and being compliant with corporate CSR policies.”

Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, says many controversies surrounding the meetings industry have been blown out of proportion. It’s her challenge, she says, to “change people’s minds by providing facts and getting correct information out there.”

Johnson notes that additional marketing, public relations and direct communication efforts can provide event and meeting planners with talking points they can use to inform their clients about everything Arizona has to offer.

“We need to remind people about the benefits of the state and the reasons to visit,” she adds.

Thanks to MPI, Arizona’s meeting planners don’t have to fight this fight alone.

“When you bring the collective know-how and buying power of 23,000 members from more than 80 countries around the world, affiliation with a leading organization of MPI’s breadth and depth often helps drive our collective point home,” Davis says.

Arizona Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

Q&A With Debbie Johnson, Executive Director Of The Arizona Tourism Alliance

Debbie Johnson
Executive Director, Arizona Tourism Alliance

Debbie Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Tourism Alliance, is a major force in the Valley and state’s tourism and hospitality industry. She also serves as president and CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association and the Valley Hotel and Resort Association. Johnson also represents the tourism industry by serving with the following organizations: American Hotel & Lodging Association; Arizona Film and Television Commission; the Governor’s Tourism Advisory Council; International Society of Hotel Association Executives; Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority; Civic Plaza Task Force; and the Phoenix Tourism and Hospitality Advisory Board. In 2003, she was named the Arizona Tourism Champion of the Year at the Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism, and in 2006, she was given the Phoenix Visitor Industry Champion Award by the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau.

How badly did the recession affect the state’s tourism and hospitality industry, and could it have been worse?
The tourism industry was particularly hard hit in 2009 by several factors, including the recession, the negative perception of travel and meetings, the fear of the H1N1 virus, and some misplaced political rhetoric. While our industry suffered unprecedented occupancy and revenue losses, I’m sure it could have been worse, although I shudder to think of what that would have meant to so many of our residents who rely on tourism for their livelihoods.
What we learned this year was the importance of the meetings industry to our state. Group and business travel accounts for more than 70 percent of revenue for most of our larger properties, and when we saw mass cancellations in that market due to fear of negative media coverage and public perceptions, it resulted in tens of millions of dollars missing from our state, city and county budgets. We’re still feeling those effects today as the Legislature grapples with how to deal with the deficit because of less than expected tax revenues.

What do you foresee for 2010?
We’re hearing mixed messaging as far as what the tourism industry can expect in 2010. While we anticipate having another challenging year, we are optimistic that the worst is behind us, and feel that we’ll make some inroads toward recovery.

What initiatives is the Arizona Tourism Alliance taking to help strengthen the state’s tourism and hospitality industry?

The Arizona Tourism Alliance’s most important roles are to advocate, educate and unite our industry. Bringing the industry together through annual events and monthly updates is key to keeping our members engaged and informed, and educating elected officials on the value of tourism revenues is an ongoing process that requires constant attention. With the current crisis that our state budget is in, tourism’s return on investment ($8 returned to the state budget for every $1 spent on tourism marketing) provides a positive and short-term solution toward lowering our deficit; so it’s critical for us to provide that positive message.

You are involved with several other tourism and hospitality organizations here in the Valley. How have all of those groups been working together to ride out the recession and prepare for recovery?

The Arizona Tourism Alliance, Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, Valley Hotel & Resort Association and Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association have always been strong partners, but 2009 was the year that truly brought our industry and all of our advocacy organizations together. With all challenges come opportunities, and the bright spot of 2009 was that it united our members in the resolve that we’re all in this together. We have emerged from this crisis as a stronger and more resilient industry. And the theory that a vibrant Arizona tourism industry equals a healthy Arizona economy is undeniable.

www.aztourismalliance.org | www.vhra.net | www.azhla.com


Arizona Business Magazine

February 2010

Panel of MPI Students

The Meetings Industry Is On The Offensive To Counter Negative Perceptions

When individuals and organizations meet, solutions are created, ideas are shared, business initiatives are crafted and skills are learned. Such meetings are crucial to North American business success, even more so in a dynamic, faltering, global economy. In an increasingly faceless world, effective human connections are a powerful business weapon.

The EventView 2009 study reveals that for the fourth year in a row senior sales and marketing executives in North America believe meetings and events have the highest ROI of any marketing channel. EventView is produced through a collaboration of the Meeting Professionals International Foundation, the Event Marketing Institute (EMI) and the marketing agency George P. Johnson (GPJ). EventView is the meetings industry’s longest-running global report on event marketing trends.

“This first report of the 2009 series shows that CMOs (chief marketing officers) and senior marketers believe events are the most effective medium to engage customers and move them to purchasing behavior,” says Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of MPI. “While we’ve seen event marketing mature as an effective marketing channel for several years, the benefits become heightened in an uncertain economy. Marketing decision makers have clearly taken notice.”

Of the company executives questioned in the 2009 Business Leader Survey commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), 82 percent say they believe business travel is important to achieving their businessresults.

“It’s a classic trade-off between short-term cost reductions and long-term value,” says Daniel Diermeier, a professor at the Kellogg Business School at Northwestern University. “During times like these, many companies will go too far, and actually cut back on the activities that would best position them to compete in the future.”

Another study from USTA shows that 87 percent of Americans who have attended an out-of-town meeting or convention for work say it is important to running a strong business. Meetings are far more than a collection of speeches or talking points. They are an opportunity for people of similar interests to come together and share their stories about how they are coping, as well as what they are doing to increase business, says leadership coach John Baldoni, who writes the Leadership at Work blog for Harvard Business Publishing.

Meetings and events are also strategic tools that deepen employee relationships and contribute to the overall health of companies. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, a 5 percent increase in employee retention can generate a 25 percent to 85 percent increase in profitability. Travel events show employees they are valued. If employees are only committed to the paycheck, their allegiance can be compromised when they are offered a higher salary elsewhere.

Additionally, meetings and events are essential to motivating sales forces, rewarding high performers, communicating new company initiatives and attracting top talent. According to a 2008 study by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, responsible, well-designed and well-executed meetings and training sessions have yielded significant benefits. Such benefits include improved company culture, increased employee retention and more highly engaged and satisfied employees. These companies generate better overall returns in the stock market, with firms on the list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For earning up to five times as much return as their competitors.

According to USTA, business travel in general has become a $240 billion industry due to the real value and measurable benefits derived from the collaboration and cooperation that can only occur when people meet face-to-face.

Phoenix, which covers 517 square miles, is the fifth-largest city in the country with a population of more than 1.57 million people. The Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) has accreditation from the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program, an international accreditation program developed by the Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International.

“We are pleased to be recognized in the destination-marketing community for providing outstanding services in accordance with international standards and benchmarks in this field,” says Steve Moore, president and CEO of the GPCVB.

Unfortunately, adds Brent DeRaad, executive vice president of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, “the positive Arizona attributes we worked so hard to promote as a business destination are being used to portray Arizona in a less positive light. Our meeting planners are telling us they’re hard pressed to ‘sell’ our destination up the chain of command since there is a perception that the Valley is a hotbed of negative media activity, as well as a desirable leisure destination. Regardless of our state-of-the-art meetings facilities, easy air accessibility and the great values our resorts are extending, we’re losing business to destinations facing less scrutiny.”

Since October 2008, four national news stories have featured TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) recipients or federally funded organizations holding meetings at resorts. Three out of the four meetings scrutinized on the national stage were held at Phoenix-Scottsdale properties. As a result, planners charged with staging legitimate, privately funded meetings are fearful to bring them to Arizona and are canceling and downsizing programs. In fact, ArizonaGuide.com reports that some planners are willing to spend more to host their meetings in alternate destinations that are not receiving negative media scrutiny and are not perceived as leisure markets.

In a June letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), asked for assistance to reverse an informal federal policy prohibiting and discouraging government meetings and conferences in cities that are too leisure oriented. Emanuel agreed by saying “federal policy should not dictate the location where such government events are held. Our view on the issue of government travel is not focused on specific destinations, but rather on the justification for and the cost-benefit ratio of the individual exercise.”

The USTA declares that companies receiving taxpayer dollars need to be responsible, transparent and accountable. To that end, the travel community has developed a clear meetings-and-events policy these companies should adopt. Although this policy is intended for companies receiving emergency lending from the federal government, other companies interested in adopting these guidelines may choose to alter metrics based upon industry size, company size and market sector. The general USTA policy statement says “the CEO shall be responsible for implementing adequate controls to assure that meetings, events and incentive/recognition travel organized by the company serve legitimate business purposes and are cost justified.”

USTA President and CEO Roger Dow says “… corporate and government meetings have come under attack in the media and among some members of Congress seeking to portray meetings as excessive and unnecessary. The net effect has been cancellation of thousands of meetings, the termination of tens of thousands of jobs and the loss of billions of dollars of spending for the American economy.”

According to MeetingsMeanBusiness.com, each meeting and event traveler spends an average of $1,000 per trip.

“(Travel for business meetings and events) drives the whole hospitality industry in America, and that industry isn’t fat cats; it’s waiters and dishwashers, maids and cooks, event staff and hotel clerks — blue-collar workers who belong to unions,” writes New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Investor’s Business Daily columnist Kathy E. Read adds, “Those who get hammered — the reservation clerks, maids, baggage handlers, waiters and tour guides — are the little guys and gals whom (President) Obama’s stimulus package is supposed to put back to work.”

The tourism industry is one of Arizona’s largest revenue generators. The Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) reports that in 2008, the state hosted 37.4 million visitors, including 32.4 million domestic and 5 million international travelers. AOT Director Sherry Henry explains that although the combined visitation equates to a net decrease of 3.3 percent, or 1.2 million fewer visitors from 38.6 million in 2007, the travel and tourism industry is resilient and continues to generate billions of dollars for the state’s economy.

Based on Arizona Department of Revenue data, gross sales for four key sectors of the meeting and travel industry are down 13 percent year-to-date as of May 2009, with corresponding state tax collections down almost 14 percent.

“Arizona’s visitor spending brought in $18.5 billion in direct travel expenditures in 2008, underscoring the fact that the travel and tourism industry is a major economic driver for our economy,” Henry says. “In the wake of our current economic situation, our industry brings revenue into the state that supports the quality of life of all Arizona residents.”

Last year, visitor spending generated $2.6 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues. Furthermore, the tourism industry is critical to both job creation and revenue generation for the state, supporting nearly 170,000 jobs and generating $5 billion in direct earnings.

According to Henry, unlike other industries, taxes generated by travel industry spending are paid by visitors rather than residents. These visitors bring new money to Arizona’s economy and generate revenue in all 15 counties, validating the economic importance the travel and tourism industry has across the entire state.

The Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzHLA) conducted a poll of select members in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area and determined that canceled or downsized meetings have resulted in lost revenue easily topping $100 million — equating to a minimum of $11 million in tax revenues not funneling to city and state budgets or critical public programs such as education.

“Meetings account for more than 70 percent of most resort revenues,” says Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO, Debbie Johnson. “When we lose those revenues, all Arizona taxpayers suffer; our pools are closing early, we’re losing our precious teachers and we’ll likely face a tax increase on the next ballot election. Many of those issues could have been avoided with the tax revenues from those lost visitors.”

www.eventmarketing.com
www.mpiweb.org
www.tia.org
www.visitphoenix.com
www.experiencescottsdale.com
www.azot.gov
www.azhla.com