A Q&A With Arizona’s Top Tourism Leader

By Shayna Mace

What’s exciting in the world of Arizona tourism in 2019?

There are many wonderful things in tourism this year, the biggest of which is the celebration of the Grand Canyon National Park Centennial.

How is the Arizona tourism industry doing in general in 2019?

Early indicators are showing us that our industry is doing quite well and is set to surpass last year’s record visitation volume and visitation spending, which is such great news. Tourism in Arizona is a $22 billion industry. It’s one of Arizona’s most important industries and is fundamental to keeping Arizona’s overall economy healthy.

How has the travel sector changed since you started your career in tourism?

It has grown exponentially. When I first started in this industry, there were only a few resorts in Maricopa County and those resorts would close during the summer months because business was so slow. Now, the entire state is a year-round destination depending on what you want to experience and summertime in the Greater Phoenix area is a fantastic time to get amazing staycation deals from a variety of resorts and hotels.

What’s special about bringing groups, meetings and larger events to Arizona?

I have to say the Grand Canyon of course, as it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. But honestly, visitors, whether they are here for business or leisure, often tell us how much they enjoy and appreciate the people of Arizona. Arizonians are wonderful, welcoming and hospitable people who take the time to say hello and answer questions or take photos for our visitors and that definitely doesn’t go unnoticed. And our outdoor recreation is incredible. There aren’t many places where you can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. It’s the variety of what you can do here that is unique and exciting. We have hundreds of miles of hiking trails for all to enjoy and if outdoor recreation isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other things to do.

What larger events are set to take place in Arizona in the next five years, and what other marquee events do you consider to be very important to the state’s visibility and generating tourism dollars?

In addition to the Super Bowl [taking place in Phoenix in 2023], we are hosting the NCAA Men’s Final Four [tournament] for a second time in 2024. Both events bring an incredible amount of exposure to Arizona. In addition to those events, we are so lucky to have a tremendous number of annual events in our state that bring in visibility and revenue including: the Cactus League, Waste Management Open, ISM Raceway, Fiesta Bowl, the Gem and Mineral Shows and so many others.

What new and innovative amenities have you seen resorts and hotel properties offer to groups and events that are cutting-edge and exciting?

Arizona’s culinary scene is something to behold. Our state is a treasure trove of established, James Beard Award- winning chefs as well as chefs that are inventive and making a name for themselves. Our chefs often cook with locally sourced ingredients and love to create unique, memorable, only in Arizona, culinary experiences.

Is there an area of the state that’s undergoing a renaissance or revival that’s exciting for visitors to know about?

I wouldn’t exactly call it a renaissance or revival, but the awareness surrounding our wine industry is growing tremendously. Arizona has three major grape-growing regions—Sonoita, Willcox and Verde Valley. These locally made wines have earned international acclaim, won numerous awards and have even been served in the White House. Touring our wineries and vineyards is an excellent opportunity to get outside, experience fabulous wine and admire our amazing landscape.

Let’s say you have a visitor in town. What do you take them to see and experience?

This is a tough one because we have so much to see and do! If we only had one day I would take them to Sedona to experience the incredible beauty of the red rocks, add some hiking and spa services, and then make sure to experience one of the wineries and local cuisine in Cottonwood on our way home.