The proliferation of colorful picture postcards — highlighting Arizona’s wonderful climate to those from colder regions— helped spur tourism. 

Postcard courtesy of Al Ring

Climate has been a critical resource since Arizona’s beginning. Our sunny, warm, dry weather provided the foundation for successful cattle ranching as well as the cotton and citrus industries.

Scientists came to Arizona to uncover our well-preserved ancient history and to study the heavens through clear skies. Early on, Arizona’s fantastic climate drew health seekers, explorers of the state’s natural beauty, guest ranchers and finally, tourists by the millions.

Initial climate attractions

Beginning with the completion of the two transcontinental railroads through Arizona in the early 1880s, “out-of-staters” had access to Arizona for the first time. Tubercular patients were attracted to the dry air of Phoenix and Tucson, and began their “cures” living in tents and open huts.

Thomas Sheridan, in his Arizona history book, talks about the impact of improved accommodations for patients: “Long after (tent towns) disappeared, hospitals and sanitariums erected to care for people with lung problems became the foundation of institutionalized health care in Arizona.”

Surviving patients remained in Arizona “to found businesses and raise families … there was health — and money — in sunshine.”

Another aspect of Arizona’s climate — the state’s natural beauty — first came to the world’s attention in 1873 when Maj. John Wesley Powell fired the imagination of the public in the report of his 1869 adventure boating through the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t until 1901, however, that railroad access to the South Rim of the canyon was completed, “triggering a tourist boom that eventually made Arizona the Grand Canyon State.”

Tourism began to flourish in Arizona in the 1920s. Natural attractions such as spectacular canyons, red rock buttes, saguaro forests, petrified forests, desert gardens and ancient ruins — plus elegant resorts and dude ranches — attracted visitors.

Cities began promoting tourism. The Tucson Sunshine Club extolled Tucson’s spectacular climate and Old West attributes. In doing so, the club coined the “Old Pueblo” moniker for Tucson and repeated it so often in advertising that the name stuck.

The wide use of the automobile, the proliferation of picture postcards, the establishment of national and state parks, and the invention of air conditioning all helped spur Arizona tourism.

Economic impact

So how does climate affect Arizona financially? Tourism brings in large amounts of money for goods and services associated with traveling in Arizona. It also creates opportunities for employment in the tourism-associated service sector of our economy.

These services include transportation, such as airlines, trains, automobiles and taxicabs; hospitality, including hotels, resorts and restaurants; entertainment venues, such as parks, casinos, shopping malls, music venues, theaters and sporting events including the Super Bowl and baseball’s All-Star Game; and educational venues like museums.

According to the director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, “Travel and tourism-related earnings are spread throughout the entire state and have shown a relatively consistent growth, exerting a stabilizing effect on the Arizona economy.”

According to Dean Runyan Associates in a report on Arizona travel, in 2012, visitors spent $19.3 billion, generating 161,300 direct jobs and $5.4 billion in direct earnings.

Even with tourism as one of Arizona’s top industries, the state ranks only 16th among the states in tourism revenue, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Reasons for Arizona’s relatively low ranking are a lack of man-made attractions such as amusement parks, a shortage of major airports and insufficient advertising money. California and Florida are the leading tourism states.

Still, Arizona’s climate-related tourism should continue to be an economic driver for the state’s economy.

And our superb climate should keep drawing additional new industry and people looking for a great place to live.

Selected sources and information: “Arizona – A History” (Thomas E. Sheridan, 2012); Arizona Tourism in 2012 and Beyond, 2013 Research Roundup,;; “AZ Tourism Industry Remains Economic Driver,”; “Arizona Tourism Industry has a Billion-Dollar Impact on Economy,” Geri Koeppel, Jan. 26, 2012; Impact of Travel on State Economies, U.S. Travel Association, 2013.

Bob Ring is a longtime Southern Arizonan and avid historian. Email him at