By Lee Allen
Yet Another Tucson Triumph
Accolades. Kudos. Plaudits. Bring ’em on because Tucson is making its mark in the world…again.
Still reveling in the global glory of being named as UNESCO’s first U.S. “City of Gastronomy,” this desert town turned cosmopolitan star has received more honors.
For the 11th year in a row, Tucson has been spotlighted with another Playful City USA designation for “putting the needs of families first, so kids can learn, grow and develop important life skills – using play as a solution to challenges facing city residents.”
And while that’s cool, even cooler is the most recent acknowledgment of Tucson as a World Festival & Event City, one of nine cities worldwide so honored by the International Festivals & Events Association, the major trade association of event professionals. The honor was given during its 2017 convention held here.
“The IFEA designation is a nice recognition of the dedicated professionals and countless volunteers who make our major events successful, year after year,” said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
“Along with our World City of Gastronomy honors, this award helps people who’ve never been here understand that there’s more to Tucson than just our great weather and active outdoor lifestyle that takes place in some spectacular scenery,” he said. “This designation is another indication that our cultural strengths are being recognized and Tucson is taking its rightful place as an international city.”
The World Festival & Event City award was created as a way for the festival and event industry to openly encourage support and recognize positive local environments for their efforts.
“Through this award, IFEA hopes to create a continuing dialogue between events in cities around the world in support of each other,” said organization president Steven Schmader. “The cities recognized are helping build a strong foundation and example we hope all cities, globally, will work to emulate.”
Donovan Durband, president of Festivals & Events Association of Tucson & Southern Arizona, added, “This recognition is a seal of approval and another tool in the toolbox to let the world know what a great place Tucson is. It should be a point of pride for local residents that our culture is so robust and such an integral part of who we are – and how the world views us. There are people in the far reaches of the globe who may know about Tucson only because of our major productions. Festivals and events are undoubtedly part of Tucson’s ‘cool factor.’ ”
Tucson didn’t win this one by just being nice guys in the right place at the right time. Tucson supports more than 40 festivals and events annually and the nonprofit Visit Tucson organization invests hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to help sponsor events such as the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, El Tour de Tucson, Tucson’s rodeo called La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, and the Festival of Books, along with the Tucson Association of Realtors Soccer Shootout and the uniquely Tucson All Souls Procession.
Visit Tucson is charged with bringing travelers and their tourist dollars to the region, and events such as these are an important tool in fulfilling that mission. The most recent study of the economic impact of mega-events like the gem show showed that nearly 5,000 exhibitors and 50,000 visitors brought in $120 million to be spread across the local economy.
Visit Tucson Marketing Manager Deborah Melcher calls these special promotions “signature events” that take place throughout the year – from the Tucson Jazz Festival and Tucson Desert Song Festival in January through December’s Tamal and Heritage Festival and the annual Christmas Concert at Mission San Xavier del Bac.
There is a plethora of promotions offered by Tucson Destination and Visit Tucson partners that have garnered all sorts of blue-ribbon recognition. Tucson is one of the Best Small American Cities, a Best City for Recreation and a City Where Everyone Wants to Live, as well as one of the Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States. Tucson is loved for its Mexican restaurants, biking options, retirement possibilities and as a Best City for Pets. And that doesn’t include all the entertainment and special function opportunities.
“Events and festivals impact Tucson in a variety of ways and in a positive fashion, although not all of them have measurable impacts,” said Brent DeRaad, president and CEO of Visit Tucson. “The economic return on investment in the larger events like the Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase and the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl is obvious in its direct impact on areas like hotel and resort occupancy. Other events bring national and international exposure, like the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, now the Cologuard Classic, and the Major League Soccer preseason.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on how events like the Festival of Books, the Fourth Avenue Street Fair and Tucson Meet Yourself add to our quality of life. These festivals and events, like all our special presentations, are part of the fabric of our community and frankly make Tucson a better place to live and visit.”
The Arizona Office of Tourism puts a more precise economic needle on this value, reporting that “6.5 million overnight visitors to Southern Arizona annually represent $2.4 billion in direct spending.”
Even the tourism industry folks in that larger metropolitan area to the north are impressed. “Tucson has been consistently attracting visitors to the state for decades through its signature annual events,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.
“The gem show has been going strong for more than six decades. The International Mariachi Conference is in its 35th year. And the Tour de Tucson cycling race has been growing since its inception in 1983.
“And while these events, unlike some of our even larger attractions such as the NFL Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four, may not be nationally televised, they bring thousands of people to Arizona from all parts of the world, generate lots of overnight hotel stays and stimulate both regional and state economies.”