Arizona is the home of the Grand Canyon and Sonoran desert; hosts Super Bowls, Final Fours and spring training baseball; full of the finest resorts and restaurants; and one of its cities — Tucson — became the first city in the United States to be recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

Is it any wonder the Valley of the Sun’s tourism and hospitality industry remains resolute as a top economic driver of the state? No. Is it impressive that in 2016 alone, Arizona boasted 43 million visitors with a combined spending of $21.2 billion? Yes. Take a look at why, when it comes to tourism and hospitality positive economic impact, the sun continues to shine upon Arizona.

Events, tourism, hospitality: Arizona’s economic Miracle Grow

Arizona already has some of the most impressive natural surroundings, national parks and recreation in the nation. What we’re coming to learn, as an increasingly hospitable state, is that the events Arizona hosts — both large and small — are the Miracle Grow sprinkled on what we already possess.

“Special events are of critical importance,” explains Experience Scottsdale Community Affairs Manager Stephanie Pressler. “In 2017, more than 655,000 people attended the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale and 320,000 attended the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction.”

And, like any good garden primed for optimal sun exposure, water and fertilizer, Arizona’s major cities are perfectly equipped to grow ­– like mad. This is no doubt attributed to the economic prosperity that for the past few years has continued to blossom, thus fueling new hospitality and tourism accommodations and (literally) making room for bigger venues.

“Phoenix now has the opportunity to compete for large-scale meetings and conventions with the state-of-the-art Phoenix Convention Center and its surrounding downtown hotels,” says Lorne Edwards, vice president of sales and services for Visit Phoenix.

Compete indeed – and triumph. In addition to the big draws that come with special events like the Final Four, Arizona hosts annual favorites like the Arizona Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, Phoenix Comicon, Scottsdale Culinary Festival, as well as endless arts-related events and performances and events at Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District and Tempe’s ASU Gammage, among others.

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With the space to accommodate large events, attractive venues and hefty-size conventions come voluminous visitors – and those visitors collectively spent $58 million per day during their stays in 2016, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism. Visitor spending by nonresidents increased by 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, with real travel spending (inflation-adjusted) dollars increasing by 3.9 percent per year, over the past two years.

It’s important to note something that is often overlooked: A notable portion of Arizona hospitality and tourism prosperity is due to generous international visitor spending, which amounted to $2.9 billion last year, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism.

“International visitors are valuable to our economy,” Pressler says, “because they tend to stay longer and spend more at their destination.”

As visitor spending rises and Arizona’s economic affluence blossoms, Arizona residents benefit.

“The $3.09 billion in 2016 tax revenue equals an annual tax savings of $1,186 for every Arizona household,” explains Lorraine Zomok, manager of Visit Glendale, “and is supports 184,200 industry jobs.”

With an abundance of newly constructed and renovated accommodations in tandem with added restaurants and entertainment, experts say Arizona can expect to witness a steady (if not exponential) rise in tourism-related employment opportunities.

Bees to the flower and hospitality branding power

Bees are essential to our gardens and to a greater degree, our entire ecosystem. Without minuscule electrically charged hairs on the body of the bee, it would have a difficult time locating flowers, which depend on those minuscule hairs for sources of pollen. Without the branding efforts of local tourism entities – convention and visitors bureaus and destination marketing organizations – would tourism and hospitality remain a top economic impact producer for Arizona?

“Much of our success in tourism comes from strong branding,” Pressler says. “Experience Scottsdale markets Scottsdale as a world-class vacation and meetings destination around the world. Through extensive visitor analysis, we can target potential, high-value visitors.”

The result of investigating visitor origin, spending patterns and similar tourism-related criteria has enabled entities like Experience Scottsdale, Visit Phoenix and other CVBs and DMOs to pinpoint and implement marketing campaigns in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

What Arizona hospitality and tourism experts are gleaning, as well, is the value of casting an even larger advertising net, which includes sending a message overseas.

“Providing compelling traveling experiences, especially through social media and user-generated content, offers not only potential visitors real-time experience, but also catches the attention of meeting and event planners – anytime, any place,” explains Pamela Traficanti, national sales manager for Visit Tucson and a 23-year member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

“As part of a new strategy designated by the Arizona Office of Tourism, we will see increased efforts to reach international markets including Canada, Mexico, Germany, Britain, France and China,” Zomok adds. “These strategic programs will continue to expand Arizona’s market share and are positioned to bring increased global visibility to all 15 counties statewide.”

Capitalizing on cactus, culinary genius and collaboration

One thing for which tourism and hospitality experts unanimously agree is that Arizona’s natural resources are by-and-large, some of her greatest assets.

“Arizona is a year-round, sought-out destination with the most national parks and monuments in the United States,” says Detours Director of Sales Suzanne Hagberg, “Our Southwest Native American culture offers unique experiences for visitors that come to vacation in our state.”

“We have one of the most diverse landscapes,” Traficanti says, “From the biggest population of ponderosa pines to cactus and canyons – what other state has that?”

Beyond the indisputable beauty of Arizona’s terrain and ambiance is an equally enticing abundance of recreational, entertainment and hospitality focused amenities.

“There is a vibrancy found in downtown areas full of restaurants, shopping and nightlife,” Pressler says.

Don’t be quick to dismiss, either, the offerings of quainter portions of Arizona in contributing to economic impact.

“Places like Kingman and Douglas invite opportunities for fun day trips and historical insight,” Traficanti says.

No matter where visitors come from or where they go to take advantage of Arizona’s desert-garden oasis, one thing is clear – the hospitality industry is a united front in Arizona.

“Arizona’s success is the partnership of the statewide tourism and hospitality organizations,” Zomok says. “The camaraderie and cooperative spirit of the CVBs, DMOs and organizations such as MPI are an inspiration and role model for doing business the right way. The result is a shared, collective vision, voice and work ethic which elevates and advances Arizona’s tourism industry.”