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Triple bottom line for Arizona tourism

Arizona’s tourism industry has suffered amid the economic recession as fewer people are traveling or dining out. Typically, tourism’s contribution to the local economy is purely measured in economics — dollars and taxes generated by tourists. In years past, those numbers were used to impress governments and industries supported by visitors to the Grand Canyon State. With the recession, however, those figures might not be as dazzling as before.
A project being tested in partnership with a few Scottsdale resorts by ASU’s Megapolitan Tourism Research Center aims to show the impacts resorts, hotels and entertainment venues have in their local communities beyond just occupancy taxes and dinner receipts.
The “Triple Bottom Line” project utilizes a multifaceted method of evaluating Arizona resorts and hotels including measurements for categories not typically considered such as environmental sensitivity and social development.
Tim Tyrrell, director of the Megapolitan Tourism Research Center, says the center’s mission is “tourism for the public good.”
“It’s not just about making money,” he says. “We ask ‘Can tourism increase the quality of life for locals?’”
While programs already exist measuring the environmental “greenness” of hotels and resorts, Tyrrell says those standards are based on industry and international organizations, not the average local’s sensibilities.
The program is being tested with several Scottsdale resorts and hotels in cooperation with the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, says Lauren Simons of Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Simons estimates there are at least 70 hotels and resorts in Scottsdale. The project was undertaken by Tyrrell on advice from an advising board of local tourism industry professionals, Simons says.
The project is unique in its scope. Simons says many tests are already in place to measure economic or environmental factors separately, and some studies have been done on how the arts attract tourists. But the Triple Bottom Line combines them all for a more complete understanding. She says the project will be a tool to help hotels and communities decide what direction to take in the future.
“The benefit of this test is that it combines the three aspects and offers a well-rounded view of a hotel’s impact on a community,” Simons says.
There is no standard in place measuring what Tyrrell calls “corporate responsibility” for the tourism industry. Corporate responsibility is the idea that industries should do more than just make money; they should better the world, especially for their immediate neighbors.
“It is a measure based on what local residents want, how they value things,” Tyrrell says.
The end goal of the research is a certificate program that will rate a lodging establishment’s performance in three categories. High ratings on such a certificate would help to mark local tourism industries as “conscientious community partners,” Schubert noted in the e-mail.
The first step in establishing a test-and-certificate program is to survey locals, Tyrrell says. He is working with undergraduate students in the tourism program at ASU, designing and revising a survey that will be used to gauge what Arizonans value in terms of environment, economy and culture.
Formulating a survey to accurately measure local sensibilities has been difficult, Tyrrell says, because it is “trying to quantify a concept that is metaphorical.”
Tyrrell says most people are concerned with the economic impact of tourism now, based on the rocky economy in Arizona, but Simons says it is important to look at all the ways “good, healthy tourism industries” enrich a community, besides just financially.
Once research is completed, Tyrrell foresees the test being expanded to other areas and states. A similar survey would be given in each area, as sensitivities differ geographically.
The project is in preliminary stages, so results are pending. Tyrrell is seeking a sponsor to pay for the research. As of now, the project is an academic pursuit, a part of class work in the school of tourism at ASU’s downtown campus. Tyrrell does the research in addition to his teaching duties, but he is trying to market the idea to more local resorts to gain support.
Tyrrell will make a presentation about his research at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in July.

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