Could Tucson's tourism industry be on the rebound?

Praise from respected travel magazine may help
Posted at 3:21 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 20:24:20-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — COVID precautions did not suppress our local travel industry as much as you might think -- it's been on a strong rebound that's getting stronger.

Tucson’s travel industry woke up this morning to a powerful boost. The magazine Conde Nast Traveller put Tucson on its annual hot list of best places to visit -- right next to glittering international locations like Dubai.

It’s Dan Gibson’s job at Visit Tucson to convince people to visit Tucson -- so it’s a real gift to hit the magazine hot list.

"It just opens you up to a group of people that may not have thought about Tucson before," he said. "When, there's an infinite number of places to travel and having those mentions, they start to add up. It feels like everyone is talking about Tucson, and then becomes impossible to not come here."

But Tucson tourism has been rebounding even without the magazine’s help. Visitors cooped up by COVID, hungry for something really different can find it here, in award-winning restaurants so unique the United Nations recognized the food here as a cultural treasure and in natural beauty like nothing they’ll see back home.

When Donna Wilkerson came to visit family here, she was struck by how it’s so different from her home in North Carolina.

"Because we live on the coast and we don't have different flowers like this, right here. I've never seen this until now," she said. "So, for me, if somebody was coming from the East Coast, I would say the beauty of Arizona. And people think when they think of Arizona, that it's just desert, but it's not."

At Hotel McCoy they started to see more guests in February. With more vaccinations and more people eager to get out and about their guest count has been rising every month since.

Amanda Rochelle says the first visitors to arrive were able to drive to Tucson from places like California or Texas.

"I would say definitely a lot of those folks, especially earlier on, would be people who might naturally just be more outdoorsy people," she said. "They do a lot of like, you know, hiking, things like that. A lot of that crowd since they want to do live events and things that are outside, which automatically feels safer just because less confined spaces."

Travel experts say the rebound is mostly in leisure travel -- that Tucson has still not seen a return of big business events that boost the big resorts.

Tucson’s hot summers normally cool down the travel business but Dan Gibson of Visit Tucson thinks people eager to travel again may make for a busier summer even if it’s Phoenix residents or Mexicans just coming for a weekend. He thinks the real impact of the Conde Nast article praising Tucson could come in the Fall.