Perhaps the biggest booster of the Arizona Office of Tourism is the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, a public policy advocate for the industry that represents more than 400 hotels, resorts and bed and breakfasts throughout the state.
Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the association, agrees that this is a tough time to cut back on tourism marketing. “Money is already tight, and people are challenged about where to go on their vacation,” Johnson says. “They’re making vacation decisions, and with the budget already cut, it just hurts our industry as a whole.”
Johnson gives AOT credit for doing the best it can to serve the needs of hoteliers, but suggests that rural Arizona will feel the most pain because those areas are not as well known to the traveling public.
“AOT has great grant programs for rural matching funds,” Johnson says, “but if the money goes away, they’re not going to be able to offer those grants. It’s just an extremely challenging situation.”
The challenge becomes regional. Arizona is in competition with such states as Texas, Colorado and California. Johnson says those states have significantly larger tourism budgets than does the Grand Canyon State. Which brings Johnson to another area of competition – the millions spent marketing Las Vegas.
“How much money does the Grand Canyon have for marketing?” Johnson asks rhetorically. “Oh, that’s right. The Arizona Office of Tourism funds Grand Canyon marketing. And the sad thing is that Las Vegas is trying to claim the Grand Canyon, which makes me crazy every day.
Unfortunately, we’re not able to do what we need to do as the state of Arizona to market our best resource for tourism and travel.”