With big-ticket events like Final Four, Glendale tops tourism trade

Above: Westgate will be the only location in the Valley where ESPN will be broadcasting live leading up to the Final Four. (Photo courtesy of ESPN) Sports | 3 Apr, 2017 |
Lorrain Zomok manager of Visit Glendale

Lorraine Zomok: “We showcase all 14 communities in the West Valley,” says the manager of Visit Glendale. “The visitor coming in doesn’t know that one side of an avenue is Glendale and the other side is a different city. They are looking at us as a whole and we can sell the region as a package. Strength truly does come in numbers.” (Photo by Mike Mertes, AZ BIG Media)

If Glendale is going gangbusters (which it is), then the West Valley as a whole is even more gregarious in growth and opportunity. To what does our southwestern state owe for this westward expansion? It’s perhaps not so much “what” as “who.”

Say hello to Lorraine Zomok, director of Visit Glendale. Zomok doesn’t just promote Glendale; she lives, eats and breathes it. As a 46-year resident, currently living in Glendale’s oldest historic home (built in 1918), Zomok has the happy responsibility and honor of perpetuating the promotion of Glendale and 14 neighboring cities that make up the West Valley. It’s a duty for which she takes great pride, and it shows.

Within the last three years, Glendale has been host to show-stoppers like the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff National Championship and this year’s Final Four – and these are just the headliners.

Visit Glendale is largely responsible for solidifying these prestigious events, in addition to bringing in more and more visitors, conferences and overall hospitality and economic vitality to one of the most rapidly growing areas of Greater Phoenix.

Az Business sat down with Zomok to discuss her passion, dedication and charisma in honoring and elevating a vision created by early West Valley pioneers and one that continues today.

Az Business: Glendale has hosted the three biggest events in sports over the last three years. What kind of impact has this had on the West Valley?

Lorraine Zomok: These large-scale events not only impact Glendale, but the entire state. The University of Phoenix Stadium has been a true host for Super Bowls, Fiesta Bowls and now the Final Four. It really changes and elevates the face of our city. Thinking about where the stadium is now was once farm fields is fascinating. We’ve seen amazing progress in witnessing a farming community continue to grow into a premiere sports and entertainment destination.

I’m proud to see how much we’ve grown, while still staying true to our roots. I take our 100 years of progress very seriously, continuing to perpetuate a vision that began with pioneers of this area in the late 19th Century. I see great things ahead for the West Valley. Glendale is proud to usher 14 West Valley communities into the next century.

University of Phoenix, Glendale, 2015 Super Bowl

University of Phoenix stadium is home to the Arizona Cardinals and has hosted large-scale events such as the Super Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Final Four basketball tournament.

AB: The Cactus League has strong presence in the West Valley. What are the scope of benefits this has and continues to bring to your industry?

LZ: Spring training is our version of Super Bowl every March. It’s our favorite time of year. We host spring training teams for the entire Valley of the Sun. People come from all over the country to enjoy games, most all of which are west of 1-17, from here in Glendale, to Surprise, Peoria and Maryvale.

In Glendale, we roll out the red carpet for our spring training fans. We receive the most passionate visitors, who love nothing more than to cheer on their home teams.

As to how spring training affects tourism, we experience the highest occupancy for the month for March. It’s not surprising considering that there are 30-plus days of games. A game only lasts a few hours, which leaves a lot of time for visitors to take advantage of our cultural offerings, shops, restaurants, museums and historic downtown areas.

Of course, our residents take in a game or two, but we can always be prideful about showing off our state to visitors.

AB: Have there been any recent tax initiatives specific to the West Valley to foster
and encourage tourism?

LZ: In 2010, city hoteliers requested that an additional bed tax be implemented for the City of Glendale. With 1.6 percent of all funds going directly to Visit Glendale, the tax became a complete change agent for us. It solidified our standing as a tourism entity.

Since 2012, we’ve adopted a more global focus. We have added a national sales division, hired an individual to completely oversee digital and social content and been able to target meeting planners and trade business.

As a result of the bed tax, we’ve seen nearly a 20 percent increase in gross hotel sales from 2014 to 2015. For us, it’s shown that investment in tourism absolutely pays off. It’s also reiterated the importance of partnership.

Through challenges in the economy, national disasters and legislation issues, partnership has made us a strong region. We roll up our sleeves as a West Valley community – what’s good for Glendale is good for Buckeye, Peoria and all of our other cities.

AB: What would you consider to be the West Valley’s best-kept secret?

LZ: Personally, I would say Sahuaro Ranch. It’s one of our original ranches in Glendale and a national register building. As far as the history, architecture and ambiance, there’s nothing like it in the world. It definitely feels like stepping back in time. Families often picnic there and it’s a popular destination for hosting weddings and events.

AB: What makes the West Valley unique in comparison with Metro Phoenix, the East Valley, etc.?

LZ: We are authentic and real . In the morning, you can visit a historic downtown and in the afternoon be cheering with tens of thousands of sports fans, and by evening climb a mountain.

One thing unique to the West Valley is our historic downtowns. Downtown Peoria, for example, has beautiful churches and theaters and an overall historic ambiance that reflects authenticity and connectedness to our West Valley roots. The same can be said for Wickenburg with its Old West feel, and Litchfield Park’s iconic Wigwam Resort that comes with 75-plus years of history.

These are things you can’t replicate. Time, care and attention come from local residents who value and support these downtown areas. Now, we can share them with worldwide audiences traveling to our area for special events.

AB: With three impressive mega events within three years, what’s next for
Glendale? 

LZ: For Visit Glendale, it’s growth, capitalizing on the faith that West Valley tourism has put in us through funding and partnership.

In tourism, we’ll see a new hotel in Westgate (projected for March), while we continue to build the piece of our pie on the convention side. We’re upping our efforts to capture travel trade and to engage meeting planners to put us top of mind for major tourism and events.

One event we’re excited about: is the “Kiss Me I’m Irish Run.” It’s a half-marathon that will bring people in from all over. We added a kilt run on St. Patrick’s day in an effort to break the current Canadian-held world record of the most people wearing a kilt in a race.

We are also big on giving back, so we have several events with a charity component. Operation Woman Warriors, sponsored by the Soroptimist International of the Kachinas, collects supplies for female deployed military. Treats for Troops sends care packages to deployed military over the holidays. And Kurt Warner’s Treasure House helps individuals with special needs and much more.

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