Arizona tourism isn’t breaking records yet again. But it comes to that.
After the COVID-19 pandemic ended a string of record years for overnight stays and tourism spending, Arizona recovered much of its pandemic losses in 2021 and surpassed national tourism recovery averages.
The Arizona Office of Tourism recorded 40.9 million overnight visits statewide in 2021, up from 32.1 million in 2020, according to new data released July 11. Overnight visits are 87% of pre-pandemic levels; total attendance in 2019 was 46.8 million, an all-time high.
The variety of experiences available in Arizona is an important 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 experiences based on what they’re most comfortable doing, she said.
“For some people, it was a resort stay,” Johnson said. “For others, it was camping in the middle of nowhere.”
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Tourism spending is improving
Visitor spending is also closer to pre-pandemic levels, with the $23.6 billion generated by 2021 vacationers representing 92% of the $25.6 billion in 2019.
Arizona tourism spending outpaced the nation as a whole, which recovered 76% of its 2019 spending.
Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix metro area, benefits the most from this visitor spending with $13.9 billion in 2021.
Counties that 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 Yavapai County in 2021 Mr.; tourism spending in Yavapai has increased by more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels.
More visitor spending means more economic impact on the places people visit, Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement.
“It’s no surprise to see crowds of people coming to visit our state,” he said. “Tourism in Arizona directly translates into economic benefits for communities throughout the state.”
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Arizonans drive overnighters
The 40.9 million people who stayed overnight in Arizona in 2021 represented 87 percent of 2019 levels, just above 85 percent statewide compared to the pre-pandemic period, the tourism office said.
The biggest drivers of Arizona tourism in 2021 were Arizonans themselves. With 10.8 million visitors, Arizona is the top overnight state, 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 explore,” she said. “There are places here that I haven’t seen, and I’m in tourism.
International travel to Arizona is still behind schedule
Domestic travel accounted for much of the recovery in tourism in 2021. Far fewer international visitors came last year, Johnson said.
The Arizona Office of Tourism recorded 3 million overnight stays by international travelers in 2021, a 51% drop from 2019.
State tourism marketers continue to work to restore international tourism. Johnson said her staff is contacting tourism marketers in every country that has a flight to and from Arizona to promote international travel to the state.
“This international visitation is critical and it’s all over the state, not just the urban areas,” she said.
Overall, Johnson doesn’t expect Arizona tourism to return to or surpass 2019’s record until 2023 at the earliest. But she sees the number of overnight stays and visitor spending in 2021 as promising signs.
“The beauty of Arizona is that our geographic diversity allows for a little bit of everything,” she said.
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