It’s no secret that the meetings industry, and travel in general, has taken quite a few hits in Arizona over the past few years. As a result, local convention and visitors bureaus — the ones who promote travel to and meetings in the state — have had to overcome new obstacles in their quest to make the Valley a top destination spot.
Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB), notes that while room night consumption was up nearly 11 percent from January through May (versus those same months last year), future business-lead production since this past May has dropped to 40 percent below the year-over-year pace.
“And remember,” he adds, “we were in a severe recession and also a key target of the (corporate meetings backlash) last year.”
While the corporate meetings backlash has abated, the state’s tourism industry was hit again this spring when the state Legislature passed, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed, the nation’s toughest immigration law, SB 1070. The media firestorm that ensued caused cities, companies and individuals to boycott doing business in and traveling to Arizona.
Stephanie Nowack, president and CEO of the Tempe Tourism Office, is aware of just two groups that decided not to meet in Tempe due to the immigration law. However, the combined economic impact of those cancellations was a loss of $385,000 to the city.
Pam Williams, CTA, convention sales manager for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, notes that the immigration law may be having a greater negative impact than can be seen on the surface.
“We have had a few groups express their concerns about this bill, and some organizations have specified that their group will not be considering Arizona as a destination in the near future for their conferences and meetings due to SB 1070,” Williams says. “However, industrywide, it’s the meetings we don’t know about that have silently chosen to exclude Arizona on their RFPs and short lists that will have the greatest impact. This will make calculating the monetary effects to our industry next to impossible.”
But, believe it or not, there is some good news to report on the tourism front. According to Rachel Sacco, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, “Scottsdale’s January through April 2010 occupancy and revenue per available room (is) ahead of last year … This past year, 50 percent of our meetings leads were for new business.”
In addition, a Metropoll XIII study, conducted by the market research firm Gerald Murphy and Associates, recently found that “meeting planners rank Scottsdale first for its romantic atmosphere, friendly residents, green policies, outdoor recreation, and great shopping and restaurants.”
The positive outlook is not contained in Scottsdale, but is being felt all over the metro area.
Moore notes that “the GPCVB typically books between 600,000 to 700,000 hotel room nights per year, and last fall we doubled our meeting planner fly-ins, targeting those groups with a peak block of 200 rooms. Most were over 1,500 rooms on peak, and we were very successful in showcasing the ‘New Phoenix,’ as too many planners had not been to our destination in many years.”
Over in Tempe, voters recently approved Prop. 400, which increased the bed tax by 2 percent.
“It is our job to promote the area and drive traffic to Arizona,” Nowack says. “With this additional funding, we’ll be able to put into place a strategic initiative to market the area in a consistent and positive way.”
Nowack also is proud to announce a new event in the Tempe/Scottsdale area, the Women’s Half Marathon. It will begin in Scottsdale and end at Tempe Beach Park, and is expected to draw 5,000 participants on Nov. 7. Nowack says the event is “a perfect example of new business still looking to Arizona.”
“They chose us because of our knowledge, experience, and success hosting events,” she adds. “We are known for hospitality.”
It is this local hospitality that Nowack would like to remind meeting planners of when it comes time to schedule their travel and events.
“(The immigration law) has given us a challenge to rebuild Arizona’s brand,” she says.
But Moore says this may be easier said than done.
“Because our hard-earned brand has somewhat been hijacked, this effort will take longer than many suspect,” he says. “Substantial marketing resources from both the public and private sectors must be enhanced and maintained. Tourism/meetings (have) been impacted far more than any other sector in the state, and our industry needs to create a compelling reason for the state’s business leadership to better appreciate how visitors and conventions impact them.”