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Tucson tourism in for roller coaster recovery in 2022

Masked passengers wait near their gates at Tucson International Airport.
Posted at 10:02 PM, Dec 17, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tourism in Tucson and Southern Arizona is on the road to recovery, but that road could be bumpy heading into 2022.

Visit Tucson senior director of communications Dan Gibson says the demand for travel is noticeably higher than it was last winter.

“Airlines are full. Hotels are booking people. People are making plans, they’re looking to stick to them,” he said. “You’re going to see some changes as variants come and go and sort of numbers come and go of some degree of people who are traveling.

“But a year ago it was like, ‘Will people be able to travel at all? Will we be shutting everything down again?’ You don’t really see the sort of talk of shutdowns or sort of large-scale mitigation like that.”

Gibson says Tucson-area hotels are nearly as full as they were in 2019, with staffing shortages weighing down hotels and limiting some available capacity.

One of the biggest catalysts for tourism’s recovery this year has been the return of in-person events, Gibson says, with the Arizona Bowl and other winter experiences like the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show set to return.

Gibson says for that reason, late December is now the region’s kick off to tourism season.

“Having those events, having things like that that can be an attractor makes all the difference in the world,” he said. “Whether people are coming for that or not…You want to go to a city that has a sort of vibrancy to it. And Tucson’s sort of re-launching those things. It helps so much.”

The southern border reopening to Mexican tourists is also a huge boon for Tucson hospitality.

“That’s a lot of money coming into our community,” Gibson said. “I mean, we’re talking about a billion dollar industry that was functionally cut in, by three quarters, if not more.”

Gibson also says, to a lesser extent, Canadians flock to Tucson by the thousands and can now return as the country’s borders have reopened.

However, there are also new challenges slowing tourism this winter, with the most pressing being the Omicron variant and new, explosive COVID surges emerging around the country and world.

Those make overseas and large-scale corporate travel unlikely.

“Until you have really deep sort of comfort levels, that business travel is gonna move up and down based on just people’s perception of safety,” Gibson said.

While the area may still be missing out on those business conferences, one unique positive that Tucson as a destination is its warm and sunny winters.

The weather and outdoor activities not only attract people wishing to escape the cold, but also those looking to avoid the increased risk of COVID spread indoors.

“Having so much that’s outside, is a really big selling point for us,” Gibson said.