Kim Sabow hopes to bring a global perspective to Arizona’s tourism industry.
In November, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and the Valley Hotel and Resort Association named Sabow as its new president and CEO, succeeding Debbie Johnson, who is now leading the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Sabow left her position as executive director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission to take on the leadership role in thew tourism industry.
“I plan to bring my international experience to this new challenge,” Sabow says. “Having that global view will help us take Arizona’s tourism industry — which is already a huge economic engine — to the next level.”
Before Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Sabow to her role with the Arizona-Mexico Commission, she served in the gubernatorial administrations of both Jan Brewer and Fife Symington. She also worked as assistant vice president of state relations for the University of Arizona until leaving for a spot in Ducey’s administration.
Az Business met with Sabow to talk about the impact of tourism on the state and how her background could boost the industry.
Az Business: What attracted you to the position at AzLTA?
Kim Sabow: As a third-generation Arizona native with a deep passion for our great state, the opportunity to serve as President & CEO of the state’s leading public policy advocacy entity for one of the state’s largest industries presented an opportunity too great to ignore. Arizona tourism is the state’s second largest industries employing more than 200,000 residents and generating $2.9 billion annually in state, local and federal tax revenues. It also takes top honors as the state’s largest export industry.
AB: How does AzLTA fit into the mix with Arizona’s other tourism groups and associations?
KS: The AzLTA works in close collaboration with a multitude of stakeholders throughout the state including the Arizona Office of Tourism, the numerous Convention & Visitors Bureaus and related industry partners in an effort to increase awareness of tourism and the significant impact the industry has on Arizona’s economy. Through advocacy and education, the AzLTA promotes the interests of our members, the industry and residents who rely on our properties, attractions and destinations for jobs and tax revenues critical to Arizona’s economic vitality.
AB: You have a history of helping advance Arizona’s business development efforts. How will that experience help you in your role at AzLTA?
KS: I certainly did not enter the tourism world through the standard avenues … I began my professional career in state government as Deputy Press Secretary for Governor Fife Symington and later as an International Trade Specialist with what was then the Arizona Department of Commerce. I often recount a story that took place during that time while I was representing Arizona at an information technology trade show in Italy … it was there where I was so incredibly struck by the power and reach of the Arizona brand, particularly through tourism. While I was supposed to be focused on promoting Arizona’s attractive business climate as well as exports from numerous IT companies that call Arizona home, I ended up spending the vast majority of my time answering questions about the Grand Canyon, about our world class resorts, spas, golf courses and about the multitude of additional tourism destinations and attractions for which Arizona is world renown. These were corporate IT professionals representing global operations for their companies … .what better way to get their attention and consideration for business than through tourism … Arizona’s doorway to economic development.
AB: What kind of role does tourism play in attracting new businesses to Arizona?
KS: Arizona is blessed with unique natural assets, beauty, culture and climate that cannot be manufactured. Oftentimes, it is to experience this magic that CEO’s and executives from around the world choose Arizona as a destination. More than 39 million domestic and international overnight visitors experienced Arizona as a travel destination last year … again, what better way to expose them to the dynamic and innovative industry base as well as positive business climate that Arizona also enjoys.
AB: How do you think Arizona’s economic development and tourism groups should work together to achieve mutually beneficial results?
KS: In my mind, the missions of Arizona’s economic development and tourism groups are very closely intertwined. Working in harmony is critical in order to showcase the Arizona brand effectively and holistically. As a former CEO, Governor Ducey realizes the importance of brand and how that brand resonates around the world. As such, he has prioritized revitalizing Arizona’s brand which will, no doubt, pay dividends for the state.
AB: What is the health of Arizona’s tourism industry heading into 2016?
KS: The health of Arizona’s tourism industry is as strong as it has been in years. Coming off the high of the positive Super Bowl impacts and looking forward to the great promises of the College Football Championship game followed by the Final Four in 2017, as an industry we are extremely optimistic.
AB: Arizona tourism industry has had to overcome a few hiccups – SB 1070, questions about tolerance, etc. How does the tourism industry overcome those misperceptions about the state?
KS: Arizona has a rich history as home to a diverse population, and we welcome visitors from around the globe on a daily basis. Phoenix/Scottsdale is among the top 25 markets in the country for hosting group meetings and the groups that have selected our destination over the past several years have experienced robust and often record-breaking attendance. Arizona has always remained a wonderful and welcoming destination that offers visitors endless opportunities to experience our rich culture, storied history and stunning geography … that is the positive Arizona brand image that is resonating.
What are your goals as the new leader of AzLTA?
KS: To continue to grow the value proposition for our membership, thus increasing membership and ultimately the strength and reach of the industry. By increasing value through new, unique and innovative opportunities, our membership base and the benefits that base enjoys will grow. I would love to see 100 percent industry engagement in our association … what a powerful, positive and undeniable message to our state policy makers from the state’s second largest industry.