The Arizona State University School of Sustainability is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Christopher Boone, the dean of the school, will tell us more about the college and its role as the first sustainability school in the nation.
Ted Simons: In 2014, close to 41 million People visited Arizona and spent Close to $21 billion, which in Turn generated $3 billion in tax Revenue. Are those numbers holding up and What is the state of Arizona's Tourism industry? We ask those and other questions To Debbie Johnson, director of The Arizona's office of tourism.
Ted Simons: Good to see you here.
Ted Simons: What is the state of tourism in Arizona?
Debbie Johnson: You know what? We're really in a great place right now. We obviously had a few rough years, many things causing some challenges across the country. And so it's really nice, Arizona's rebounded well, and I think those 2014 numbers that you mentioned are going to be some stronger numbers for 2015 that we should be getting soon.
Ted Simons: Lodging occupancy. Looking pretty good?
Debbie Johnson: It's up in the double digits right now in Arizona which has been fantastic for this last year to really start to see some double-digit growth and talking about some positive things, we've seen some growth in rate, as well. We're not where we should be when you count in inflation but we're pretty tarn close.
Ted Simons: As far as spending indicators, those folks coming out here, are they still spending?
Debbie Johnson: Not where they were seven or eight years ago, but that's to be expected because I think that's really what we're seeing around the world, people are spending a little bit less on some things, being a little bit more practical. We're seeing that spending come back and it's not in the tourism but it's in all the other things that they spend, not just lodging but dining and some of the activities that you do when you travel.
Ted Simons: Do you compare, do you look at similar areas and when you do, what would be considered a similar area to Arizona?
Debbie Johnson: You know for us we look at some of our competitive states would be Colorado, even California, Texas, Florida, you look at kind of those sunshine states, states where they have some great geography and great things to do. And so those are the states we look at.
Ted Simons: And as far as marketing because we see some of those states marketing themselves right here on our local TVs. How is Arizona marketing itself elsewhere?
Debbie Johnson: You know, it's funny because people say I don't see Arizona marketing, that's because we live here. We do a lot of marketing nationally and internationally. This year we had five target cities and they were Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, and Austin. And so we really put a lot of focus on those cities and some really unique campaigns, we did some social media influencers, we did some special events there and really go and in put a lot of our resources into those cities.
Ted Simons: That's interesting. I can see Minneapolis and Chicago and maybe even Seattle and Portland, Austin is an interesting choice. How do you choose these cities?
Debbie Johnson: We have significant research that shows us where a lot of these visitors are coming from and Texas is right at the top. You know, in our top three where visitation is coming from domestically so it was really important looking at what was affordable, New York, for instance, is just not affordable for us to marketing there but some of these other destinations and this is the first year for Austin and Portland so we did a smaller test, it was very successful and next year we're going to work on San Francisco.
Ted Simons: I see.
Debbie Johnson: We're excited.
Ted Simons: San Francisco -- in the summertime, San Francisco such a blessing for Arizonans but having lived in the bay area for a while, come winter late winter, Arizona is a blessing to get to.
Debbie Johnson: Well, for a lot of places it's a blessing to get here, certainly, the weather and that's one of the things we always talk about. We have weather but we have so much to see and do, too, and that's why people want to travel.
Ted Simons: We've talked in the past few weeks on the 100th anniversary of the national parks service. What kind of impact is that having?
Debbie Johnson: It's a tremendous impact and I've got to tell you we have one of the seven natural wonders of the world in Arizona and the marketing comes from the office of tourism so it's really important to us to put as many resources as we can and people want to talk about the grand canyon. I'm hiking the grand canyon next week for my first time and I'm so excited. We're taking nine international journalists -- to havasupai. It really is on people's bucket list and we do it once a year where we bring in international journalists, people, they're clamoring for this, we pick one from each of our destination countries and they can't wait. They've got articles ready to go.
Ted Simons: Okay. Gas prices are kind of inching up a little bit.
Debbie Johnson: A little bit.
Ted Simons: A little bit but not much. The impact of low gas prices on tourism in general.
Debbie Johnson: The impact of low gas prices is important. We are not as much of a drive market as a lot of destinations but summer travel is where it plays an important deal because for our summer business, so much of it is local and when I say local I don't mean just in the valley but statewide, a lot of team come to Phoenix, you can come stay at one of our amazing resorts for 20%, 25% of what you can in the wintertime. Phoenicians go up to Flagstaff, folks go down to Tucson, so that statewide travel in the summer is critical.
Ted Simons: As far as the international tourists, I know there would seem -- was there a drop-off with Canada and Mexico? The dollar is so strong right now, that has to be impacting a little bit.
Debbie Johnson: It is impacting a little bit but we're going to see some strong travel I think pick up and that's the good news. Canada in particular, we've been hit a little bit hard with Canada and these folks come out and stay for weeks at a time and they want to golf and they want to participate in so many activities that it's really important for us to get those Canadian visitors down here.
Ted Simons: Any other countries that are stronger than we might expect?
Debbie Johnson: Germany, the U.K. One of our biggest ones right now is China. China is one of the biggest emerging markets for Arizona right now and we've just signed a contract to have a representative in that country representing us because it's so important.
Ted Simons: And as far as -- let's say the Chinese in particular, Grand Canyon. Got that. They've got to see the Grand Canyon. What else would a Chinese visitor be interested in?
Debbie Johnson: There's so many things they want to do. They really are into the destination so they go see Sedona, believe it or not, bird watching down in southern Arizona, it's a huge thing. Absolutely so there's a lot of different destinations that we can talk about and one of the things we just did, we had a fan trip with China visitors who came and we brought them into Phoenix so they can see all there is to see and do, instead of going to Las Vegas, to go to the Grand Canyon. We wanted them to see what there is to do in Phoenix, and then go to the Grand Canyon.
Ted Simons: As far as folks booking online. Doing their own booking and these sorts of things. Has that changed the nature of travel and tourism to the extent where the state can see differences?
Debbie Johnson: Absolutely. And I think we're redoing our website because of that, because so many people are not just looking online, they're now booking online. For a long time people were just looking but now, they're booking, and it's important, you see all the hotel companies offering deals that you can only get on their website. I think a lot of companies are understanding the importance of that online tool.
Ted Simons: And the importance of big sporting events, the Phoenix open, the cactus league.
Debbie Johnson: Final four coming.
Ted Simons: Final four coming. How big of an impact do those things make on tourism in general?
Debbie Johnson: Well, not only the event itself, which brings in tens of thousands of visitors, certainly has an economic impact that, you know, is just undeniable but I think for us what we forget about sometimes is the residents who live here, this worldwide audience that's watching. And those people are seeing Arizona in such a positive light, and it's great, these events show the beauty of Arizona, the Grand Canyon, all the things to see and do so that's advertising we just couldn't afford to buy.
Ted Simons: And you mentioned Arizona residents sometimes, we can be tourists as well and that's an important factor, as well.
Debbie Johnson: That's an important message for all of it. We're really trying to talk about get out and enjoy your own state. I've lived here 25 years and I've never hiked the Grand Canyon.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here, good information. Thanks for joining us.
Debbie Johnson: Thanks, Ted.
Christopher Boone: Dean of Arizona State University School of Sustainability