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State aims to attract more foreign tourists

The region that includes Maricopa and Pinal counties had 17.6 million domestic visitors in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Doug Rauch/flickr/Creative Commons)

The region that includes Maricopa and Pinal counties had 17.6 million domestic visitors in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Doug Rauch/flickr/Creative Commons)

Wondering where all those tourists wandering around Arizona are coming from?

Increasingly, Australia.

Mind you, there aren’t a lot of them here − yet. Just about 71,000 in 2018.

And that compares with 5.8 million international visitors.

But Scott Dunn of the Arizona Office of Tourism, said that’s a very good sign.

It turns out his agency has been increasing its marketing there. And the possibilities for payoff, said Dunn, are good.

“Australians get a lot of vacation time,” he said.

More significant, Dunn said that people from there are the No. 1 source of repeat visitors.

“For visitors that have been to Arizona and want to come back again, Australians always rate the highest.

Still, they have a long way to go to match the 3.7 million visitors from Mexico last year and about 962,000 from Canada, the major sources of Arizona tourism. And, for the time being, more Germans visit Arizona than Australians.

The figures come from a new report which shows that tourists visiting Arizona spent a record $24.4 billion in the state last year.

About half of that cash came from travelers from the other 49 states, with $4.4 billion shelled out by Arizonans who apparently chose to stay close to home.

But that still left $4.5 billion coming from international travelers.

One thing that is having some effect, according to the report for the agency by Dean Runyan Associates, is that the overall international share of travelers has declined slightly in the past two years due to the decreased value of foreign currencies relative to the U.S. dollar.

That’s generally good for Arizonans traveling abroad, as their dollars go further. But for those making the trip here, it takes more of their currency to buy a dollar.

Even with that, Dunn said Arizona still managed a 4 percent year-over-year increase in the number of visitors from Mexico. That, however, followed a decline between 2016 and 2017.

But it also comes amid increased border tension between the United States and Mexico as well as actions that may have made it more difficult for Mexican nationals to cross the border, even with all the right credentials.

Dunn said those issues have not escaped his agency’s attention. In fact, the Office of Tourism just this past month launched a year-long study to speak with Mexican visitors when they’re on their way back to their home country, hoping to understand the issues they are having and how that is affecting their willingness to cross the border into Arizona.

He also said there is an increased push to convincing Mexican tourists to wander farther from the border and stay a little longer.

China presents a different picture.

For a long time it was a bright source of tourism dollars, with the number of visitors between 2010 and 2017 increasing by 286 percent. Now, said Dunn, that figure is flattening out.

Some of that, he said, appears to be due to the trade war.

“Tourism is an export industry,” Dunn said, dependent on generating foreign dollars. “And trade wars aren’t great for export industries as a rule.”

He also said that the Chinese government appears to be discouraging travel to the United States. The result, said Dunn, is overall Chinese visitation to this country is down 5.7 percent year over year.

As it turns out, Arizona was not hit that hard, with just a 3.7 percent annual decline.

“That may be that our universities have pretty strong ties to China,” Dunn said.

“We still see families and students traveling here for education,” he said. “So that may have softened the blow for us a little bit.”

Dunn said while international visitors are far outnumbered by those coming here from other states, there’s a good reason why his agency makes a big push for them.

“They stay longer, they spend more,” he said.

On the domestic side of the register, the largest number of Arizona visitors last year came from California at 7.5 million. Texas edged its way into the No. 2 slot with 2.1 million from the Lone Star state, followed by Illinois, Colorado and Florida.

And for those who may grouse a bit about “snowbirds” crowding the streets, the new report has a bright side: There’s a financial benefit from all those tourists.

It figures that revenues from travelers generated more than $2.1 billion in state and local tax receipts. That, according to the study, come out to close to $800 for every Arizona resident, costs that the Office of Tourism figure would otherwise be borne by locals.

Direct spending by tourists in Arizona (in millions):

 1998 — $11.9

1999 — $12.7

2000 — $13.7

2001 — $13.2

2002 — $13.2

2003 — $14.1

2004 — $15.2

2005 — $16.9

2006 — $17.9

2007 — $18.2

2008 — $18.1

2009 — $16.6

2010 — $17.8

2011 — $18.8

2012 — $19.5

2013 — $19.9

2014 — $20.8

2015 — $21.0

2016 — $21.2

2017 — $22.7

2018 — $24.4 (preliminary)

— Source: Dean Runyan Associates, through Arizona Office of Tourism

One comment

  1. I am not sure how Arizona will attract a significant number of foreign visitors, or for that matter, domestic vacationers, and, yes business people. This State has a long sordid reputation, one we ‘Natives’ understand to be real, of alienating those who do not look, or act, as most here do. It is not a stretch to comprehend those of Color, whether black, brown, et al being treated less than hospitably. Same sex couples, groups, and others can count on rude behavior. Further, most ‘foreigners’ comprehend due diligence, and that will elicit the dicey xenophobia rampant in this venue.

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