A Northern Welcome

Visit Tucson Annual Meeting Highlights New Travel Between Tucson, Canada

By Jake O’Rourke

At Visit Tucson’s first in-person annual meeting since the pandemic, reflections on the past few years set the stage for encouraging developments ahead. 

Local business leaders filled the Copper Ballroom at Tucson Convention Center this summer for breakfast and speakers who addressed topics including regional tourism efforts, sporting advancements, hotel occupancies, film and television endeavors and especially, welcoming Canadian travelers to The Old Pueblo.

Some key takeaways from the annual meeting:

Visit Tucson has trained more than 100 new certified tourism ambassadors on top of the 100 they already have. These individuals are out in the community advocating for the value of tourism in Tucson while connecting visitors and residents to local businesses. 

Graeme Hughes, executive VP for Visit Tucson, said he believes that in addition to the increased efforts of the CTAs, the return of some of Tucson’s signature events have also aided the city’s tourism recovery. For instance, the 2022 Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase returned at roughly 75% of its average capacity, which “was a huge win this past February and really set the stage for a lot of the other things we are doing,” he said. 

The Fort Lowell Shootout at Kino Sport Complex and El Tour de Tucson were other important returning events. 

Tucson sporting events recorded 35,000 hotel room reservations during the 2021-22 fiscal year and multi-year agreements are being made to bring consistent sporting events to Tucson’s prime venues to create more sustainable revenue, according to Visit Tucson.

In January, Tucson was rated No. 1 out of 15 competitive cities in the western U.S. in terms of hotel room occupancy, according to Visit Tucson. Regional resorts averaged a daily rate of $300 per room per night during the month of March–the first time this average has been realized during the history of the resort market in Tucson.

Film Tucson Director Peter Catalanotte attributed recent cinematic success in Tucson to Duster, a new HBO series shot here by director J.J. Abrams. The project was in Tucson for six months, occupied roughly 9,800 hotel rooms throughout the city and hired 700 Tucsonans as either cast or crew, bringing in $10 million to the local economy.

A central focus of the Visit Tucson meeting was the exciting new flights recently announced between Canada and Tucson.

Thanks to the Tucson Airport Authority and Visit Tucson, Canada’s Flair Airlines will soon have a presence at Tucson International Airport. The independent Canadian carrier will offer non-stop, direct flights to Tucson from six cities across the northern border starting Nov. 30. 

 “We didn’t get much traction from other cities, and after contacting Visit Tucson, we knew that the whole community in Tucson could get together to support what we are doing,” said Garth Lund, chief commercial officer for Flair Airlines. 

Lund, who has worked for Flair for 15 months, has helped the company grow from a fleet of three aircraft flying four routes to now 15 aircraft flying 80 routes. Flair is also soon taking a delivery for an additional three planes.  

“It goes to show you that relationships count,” said David Hatfield, TAA’s senior director of air service development. “We want to make it work, and we want to welcome Canadians to Tucson.” 

The first flight on Nov. 30 will carry passengers from Edmonton. A winter crew will be stationed in Tucson, and flights are set to continue through March 2023 as the trial run for the new departure cities. Flair hopes to make these flights available year-round to not only promote Canadian travel to the region but, reciprocally, to encourage Tucsonans to travel north during the summer swelter.

Flair is also committed to making its flights more affordable. One-way flights will start around $100, and the plan is to offer flights to Tucson at least once a week, with increasing frequency, between November and March.

Carol Stewart, VP for Tech Parks Arizona and a Canadian citizen, served as one of the panelists at the meeting. She said, “Tucson is invested in welcoming tourists, and that’s very Canadian. To open your doors and commit to people having a great experience and great success in your market is very Canadian.”  

Local officials believe that Flair’s new presence here will continue to bolster tourism.

“We need to make sure that these flights are successful, that we are bringing people here and encouraging everyone to go north and explore these beautiful cities we can now access,” said Felipe Garcia, President and CEO, Visit Tucson.

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