Tucson’s tourism industry is ready for a comeback, a new forecast says.
Tucson will be the top market for demand growth in 2015, with a projected 7.1 percent increase, according to a study by Atlanta-based PKF Hospitality Research. That compares to a 2.9 percent growth in demand nationwide.
The city has been slower to recover than others in the West and Southwest, said Visit Tucson CEO Brent DeRaad. “It’s certainly our time to enjoy the recovery many cities have already experienced,” he said.
Local hotels haven’t returned to prerecession occupancy levels, but they saw a stronger peak season, January through April, compared to last year, DeRaad said.
“We’re all set to grow next year and I believe we’re on the right track this year,” said Helinda Lizarraga.
Lizarraga is vice chair of the Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association and director of hotels at Focus Hospitality Management, a group that includes an airport-area DoubleTree and a northwest-side Comfort Suites.
She credits DeRaad and Visit Tucson for bringing the industry and government leaders together and launching an effective new marketing campaign.
The campaign uses the slogan “Free Yourself” and focuses on Tucson’s laid-back, free-spirited nature.
Local hotels are seeing more visitors from the areas targeted in the marketing campaign, including the Northwest U.S. Hotels also saw shoppers from Mexico starting to return to Tucson this summer, Lizarraga said.
Local hotels don’t have money to spend on that kind of marketing, so they depend on the convention and visitors bureau.
“We have a great city. We have everything to offer,” Lizarraga said, “but it’s getting our name out there. We’re a little bit behind.”
Now excitement is building for a tourism-industry recovery, “and I think next year is going to be our big year,” she said.
Pima County Economic Development and Tourism director Tom Moulton said the new branding is “kicking in” and news about downtown Tucson and the streetcar is “generating new excitement about our area.”
That has translated into increased attendance at attractions like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Pima Air & Space Museum, he said.
The number of passengers coming and going from Tucson International Airport was up year-over-year for each of the past four months — the first time that’s happened since 2010, said David Hatfield, Tucson Airport Authority spokesman.
The newest nonstop flight, an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, is running very full, he said. There are new flights from Seattle coming this fall, and lately there have been more flights from San Francisco.
“It looks like the cuts are gone,” Hatfield said.