By Brent DeRaad
First and foremost, we at Visit Tucson wish all of you good health as businesses throughout our region reopen.
Visit Tucson is the largest travel marketing organization in Southern Arizona, and tourism, as you can imagine, is being impacted massively by COVID-19. Per the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics, 8 million U.S. travel jobs were lost in March and April, while travel industry losses will result in a gross domestic product impact of $1.2 trillion in 2020.
Travel is one of Pima County’s largest industries, generating $2.5 billion in direct spending annually from visitors, while employing 25,000. Due to COVID-19 impacts, metro Tucson’s hotel and resort occupancy dropped from 83% in February to 49% in March. Amazingly, our March 2020 lodging occupancy percentage led the western United States despite being 35 points lower than metro Tucson’s 84% occupancy in March 2019.
Lodging occupancy and travel spending were trending considerably worse in April, though, and will likely remain far below normal for several months in Tucson and throughout the world. Tucson International Airport’s year-over-year passenger drop in April tells the story. TUS served 339,000 passengers in April 2019, but only 20,000 this April.
How do we get out of this hole? The road to recovery begins with you.
Supporting local businesses is always vital, but it has never been more important than now. Thousands of Tucsonans have been impacted financially by the pandemic. Their jobs will not return until business begins to flow.
While we would love to simply turn on the visitor faucet, it is not that simple. People need to feel safe before they are willing to step onto an airplane, walk into a store or restaurant, or check into a hotel. Safety protocols are being followed carefully by our tourism-related businesses, but we need local, early adopters to be the first to patronize them and convey the great time they had to friends and family.
So, instead of taking the annual summer trip to San Diego, why not enjoy a “staycation” at one or more Tucson resorts or hotels? The enhanced cleaning that is taking place daily at our hotels will provide you with the safest experience possible.
Several properties offer swimming pools, spas, gyms and golf courses, all featuring enhanced cleaning protocols. Staycations are an ideal way to treat yourselves this summer, while helping employ more Tucsonans.
If you choose to dine in at your favorite restaurant, follow all posted safety guidelines. Many restaurants, however, are continuing to offer takeout service. Please remember that restaurant food is as safe, if not safer, than food you buy at the grocery store. Restaurants are among the most heavily regulated industries in Arizona.
Consider visiting local attractions this summer, as well. Several attractions closed temporarily due to COVID-19 impacts, so call or visit their websites to ensure they are open before visiting. Visit Tucson’s and the Southern Arizona Attractions Alliance’s websites offer comprehensive attractions listings.
Additionally, we are very fortunate to have top collegiate, along with professional, sports activities and organizations operating in Tucson. Based on group gathering guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and where Arizona is in that spectrum, sports events cannot yet occur with fans present, but University of Arizona athletics, the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, Cologuard Classic, FC Tucson, Tucson Roadrunners and Tucson Sugar Skulls are just some of the entities we as a community will need to support to keep them viable. Numerous arts and cultural organizations and local events fall into this same category.
Another way you can help is to keep meetings in Tucson. Think about the conferences to which you travel every year. If the group size is 750 or fewer, there is an excellent chance we have a hotel, resort or other venue capable of accommodating that meeting or event. Please contact us at Visit Tucson – visittucson.org/meetings – with suggestions of meetings that our staff can pursue.
While full recovery will take multiple years, Tucson has been identified by multiple media outlets, including Forbes, as being among the 10 U.S. cities best positioned to recover from COVID-19. Our wide-open spaces, lack of urban density, Sonoran Desert setting and strengthening business climate provide an outstanding base upon which to build.
But please remember, the road to recovery begins with you.