Friday, April 3, 2020

Tucson Tourism; What to Do with Your Wanderlust

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 10:26 AM

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Most of us are sheltered in place and social distancing the way we should be. That's great - keep it up. It doesn't help the wanderlust, though, does it?

Especially with how beautiful it's been outside lately, the urge to go and experience it is strong. This is the perfect season to travel and experience the new, which is why Spring Break comes at a perfect time of year - usually.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the occasional outdoor walk in our yards or to an essential place, we're pretty much hunkered down in our homes, binging Tiger King and TikTok. Not going out and traveling only causes us to be bummed for a little while; for businesses and small communities, it can be devastating. The economic impact of tourism on communities and states can be huge.

Total direct travel spending in Arizona during 2016 was $21.2 billion according to a report done by the Arizona Office of Tourism. "Of that $21.2 billion, travel spending in the Tucson and Southern Arizona area accounted for $3.3 billion."

In this chart from the UArizona Eller College of Management, you can see where the recession in 2008 really had an effect on employment in the Accommodation sector, closely tied with tourism in the state. And now, just as tourism was beginning to bounce back, COVID-19 busts in like the Kool-Aid man to tell us to stay home.

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We had a chat with Dan Janes, CEO of Madden Media - a Destination Marketing company located here in Tucson - to find out why the tourism market is suffering so badly, what it means for our town, and what it means for you.


TW: First, why is tourism so important anyway?

DJ: Tourism supports communities - from both economic and workforce perspectives. Think of what Tucson would be like without strong tourism. The resorts, places to eat, shopping experiences, nice parks, and so much more that help make our community a better place exist and are better because of tourism – visitors to our community help keep our downtown thriving, keep small businesses growing, and help us to understand our identity as a community.

At the core, people were made to travel. We crave experiences, and we see data that supports year after year, experiences and making memories is valued more than physical items.

TW: So, with this pandemic hitting us hardest in the early Spring - during normal Spring Break trips - and leading into the Summer, what kinds of effects will this have on travel destinations?

DJ: In the short term, the absence of travel because of COVID-19 has been devastating for travel destinations. Hotels, restaurants, tour operators - all are immediately negatively affected, which affects the overall economics of the destination. But, during this hard time, we’re seeing such great support at the local level. Across the nation, people in their local markets are supporting local restaurants with delivery or carry-out.

For the tour operators and hoteliers, they’ll see recovery once it’s safe to travel again. And, people are going to be ready for it - especially after being in their house for many weeks. When you have liberty and then lose it, even temporarily, people will exercise their right to get out of their homes, back into their favorite places, and, yes, explore new places.

TW: Do you feel that Tucson is being hit especially hard with the decline in tourism, or do you think the timing would have been worse in another season?

DJ: There is never a good time, especially when you look at the thousands of people who are now unemployed, businesses that may not make it through this situation. While there are periods of higher concentrations of visitation, tourism in Tucson is not seasonal, it happens every day whether it is business travelers, conferences, explorers seeking a new experience, or the person coming to refresh old memories.

TW: What kinds of changes are destinations making in order to remain relevant, even though not as many people are traveling right now?

DJ: Being human comes first. Destinations are looking inwards at their communities to see where they can help, whether it is organizing curbside dining options, coordinating food kitchens inside of resort communities, or using their marketing tools to support messaging and the reassurance that we’re ready for you when it’s safe to travel again.

Communities across the country are leaning on their destination marketing organizations, like Visit Tucson, to build a plan for recovery. These organizations are seeking to inspire visitors for future travel, attracting new and postponed meetings and events, and maintaining interest in the destination for those who had already demonstrated travel intent.

We are seeing communities invest in travel and support for the industry. We see a lot of economic impact reports across communities that show the massive impact travel has on a community. Today, we are seeing the material effect of what happens when there is no travel in communities.

TW: The hashtag #TourismStrong is being seen more frequently in social media feeds - what does that mean to you?

DJ: #TourismStrong means the tourism industry is staying strong during a tough time. We’re getting creative with how we keep audiences engaged to keep the travel conversation going, even when we can’t physically travel right now. We’re constantly adapting and planning ahead to look forward to the welcoming day when travel resumes.

TW: Is there any other option for people instead of canceling their plans?

DJ: Instead of canceling, postpone. Plan to rebook for the future. Don’t abandon the trip, just reschedule it for a future date that makes more sense. For example, my wife and I decided to travel each year for our anniversary. Unfortunately, it takes place during this situation, so instead of travel, we spent part of our day together planning ideas for where we want to travel next.

TW: Is there anything that people can do in order to help tourism stay alive for their own towns and cities?

DJ: First, stay healthy. Then support your local businesses as much as possible during this time, those small businesses are what help give a place its identity and uniqueness. Also, be there for each other – send a text or pick up the phone – connect with someone. I know many are already feeling the effect of social distancing on their battles with depression and chronic illnesses.

While the news has focused on several pieces of legislation to help the recovery, we are dealing with an impact on the travel and hospitality industry that is 7X the impact of 9/11 when planes were ordered to immediately land at the nearest airports. There will be more help needed for the industry that will need to come from local, state, and national levels. People can support initiatives and call their elected representatives to ensure the industry is supported.

TW: Do you have anything else that you’d like to put out there?

DJ: Travel is a part of the human condition. Since the beginning of time, people have always sought to explore their unknown – we have crossed land, seas, skies, and space to explore. The tourism industry is resilient because it is there to serve those who are on their next adventure.

At Madden, we are working with destinations across the country to be ready when it becomes safe to travel. We are working with our partners to find a responsible balance in their marketing efforts. This is the time to focus on inspiration across content and media channels. We must recalibrate messaging, but at the end of the day, web usage, streaming, and TV are all up as consumers are at home. We also have an index from our data sources that shows travel intent signals from consumers is already starting to return from its lows. We also know people need some positivity, some inspiration, and something to look forward to in the near future - TRAVEL!

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