PHOENIX — Arizona tourism reached record levels last year amid an improving economy, creative marketing — and staying off “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
New figures Monday show 40.7 million people visited the state and stayed at least one night. That’s a 4.1 percent increase over 2013.
And international tourism is up 6.3 percent, hitting 5.7 million people. Most of the travelers came from Mexico, though nearly 900,000 Canadians decided to visit the Grand Canyon State, too
All of that means money — lots of it.
“When they come, we get the additional visitor spending,” said Sherry Henry, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. A study performed for the agency estimates tourists spent $20.9 billion last year, a figure that translates out to about $57 million a day.
About $5 billion of that was spent on food services and stores, with $3.7 billion for local transportation and gasoline and $2.9 billion on a place to stay.
Tourists also dropped $2.6 billion at retail outlets, whether just to buy some sunscreen or one of those “But It’s a Dry Heat” T-shirts featuring a skeleton in a lawn chair.
The ripple effect, said Henry, goes beyond helping support the businesses that cater to tourists.
Henry said direct travel generated $798 million in state taxes and another $737 million to local governments.
And Henry already is anticipating much better numbers for 2015, pointing out the special events of the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl.
She attributes much of that big jump in international tourism to the state’s partnership with Brand USA, a federal program to promote the United States overseas as a travel destination. Henry said that enabled her agency, which gets only $7 million a year in state tax revenues, to “leverage” those dollars to do far more.
“That gave us an opportunity to have consumer campaigns in both Canada and Mexico the past two years, which we have never been able to do before,” she said — campaigns specifically urging people to visit Arizona.
She said her agency also encourages travel writers to come here, resulting in stories back home about Arizona.
Mexico is a special situation, with Arizona working to take advantage of proximity to sell visits to a single state with so many different climate zones.
The 2014 numbers are good news following some downward pressure on travel to Arizona, particularly on the business side and for conventions and conferences.
Some of that initially resulted from what Henry has called the “AIG effect,” named after the insurance industry giant which, shortly after getting billions in money from the federal government to bail it out of its financial problems, spent $400,000 to entertain 100 insurance agents at a resort in California.
The resulting bad publicity led other major corporations to scale back spending on conferences and meetings.
And then there was SB 1070, the controversial 2010 legislation designed to give state and local police more power to detain and arrest people not in this country legally.
While the record is mixed on how that affected casual travelers, there is no question it resulted in some organizations canceling convention plans for Arizona and making other groups and businesses reluctant to even consider the state.
“When 1070 hit, everybody took it in the shorts,” Henry said. But she said Arizona always has remained a “strong draw” as a vacation destination.
“Even with that negative publicity, it still shines,” she said.
“Our job is to focus on the positive,” Henry continued. “Let the politicians figure out what they want to do, let the late-night TV people say what they want to say.”
Taking a closer look at the numbers, the study done for the Arizona Office of Tourism by Dean Runyan Associates shows the average domestic traveler stayed 4.3 nights and spent an average of $767 while here, exclusive of what it cost in travel expenses.
The largest source of domestic tourism was California, with 7.7 million people visitors. Illinois was far back at 1.6 million people, followed by Texas, New York and Colorado.
Those who made it to Arizona from another country stayed an average of 6.3 nights, spending $4,228 during their visit.
After the 3.8 million tourists from Mexico and nearly 900,000 from Canada, Germans made up another nearly 128,000 Arizona visitors, followed by the United Kingdom and France.