Arizona tourism isn’t about to break records again. But it gets there.
After the COVID-19 pandemic ended a string of record years for lodging and tourism spending, Arizona recouped much of its pandemic losses in 2021, beating national averages for tourism recovery.
The Arizona Office of Tourism recorded 40.9 million room nights statewide in 2021, up from 32.1 million in 2020, according to new data released July 11. Overnight stays were 87% of pre-pandemic levels; Total attendance in 2019 was 46.8 million, an all-time record.
The variety of experiences possible in Arizona is a key factor in the state’s ability to recover from the pandemic, said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Simply put, people can customize their experience based on what they enjoy doing most, she said.
“It was a resort stay for some people,” Johnson said. “For others, it was camping in the middle of nowhere.”
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Tourist spending is improving
Visitor spending is also closer to pre-pandemic levels, with the $23.6 billion generated by vacationers in 2021 accounting for 92% of 2019’s $25.6 billion.
Arizona’s tourism spending exceeded that of the country as a whole, which recovered 76% of its 2019 spending.
Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix metro area, benefited the most from this visitor spending at $13.9 billion in 2021.
The counties, which include Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Grand Canyon National Park, also benefited from visitor spending in 2021. Arizona tourists spent $1.6 billion in Coconino County and $1.2 billion in 2021 in Yavapai County from; Tourist spending in Yavapai rose more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels.
More visitor spending means greater economic impact on the places people visit, Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement.
“It’s no surprise that hordes of people come to visit our state,” he said. “Tourism in Arizona translates directly to economic benefits for communities across the state.”
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Arizonans drive overnights
The 40.9 million people who stayed overnight in Arizona in 2021 accounted for 87% of 2019 levels, slightly more than 85% statewide compared to pre-pandemic levels, the tourism bureau said.
The biggest drivers of tourism in Arizona in 2021 were Arizona residents themselves. With 10.8 million visitors, Arizona was the leading home state for overnight stays, followed by California with 6.5 million visitors and Texas with 2.5 million visitors.
Johnson said marketing campaigns during the pandemic have, in part, encouraged Arizonans to explore their own state.
“People who live here still want to discover something,” she said. “There are places here that I haven’t seen and I’m in tourism.”
International travel to Arizona is still lagging behind
Domestic travel drove much of the tourism recovery in 2021. Far fewer international visitors came last year, Johnson said.
The Arizona Office of Tourism recorded 3 million overnight stays from international travelers in 2021, down 51% from 2019.
State tourism marketers continue to work to rebuild international tourism. Johnson said her staff is contacting tourism marketers in each country that has flights to and from Arizona to encourage international travel to the state.
“This international visit is critical, and it’s important across the state, not just in urban areas,” she said.
Overall, Johnson doesn’t expect Arizona tourism to match or surpass the 2019 record until 2023 at the earliest. But she thinks the number of overnight stays and visitor spend in 2021 are promising signs.
“Arizona’s beauty is our geographic diversity, which brings a little bit of everything,” she said.
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