In an upfront conversation with Travel And Tour World, Graeme Hughes, Vice-President of Visit Tucson shares with our readers how the city is beefing up with a focus on responsible growth and public policy. With a focus on preserving natural areas, Hughes looks forward to developing Tucson as a diverse and welcoming destination for global tourists.
Travel And Tour World: As the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in global tourism how has it affected Tucson’s tourism scene?
Graeme Hughes: The pandemic was devastating for everyone, including Tucson. However, Tucson has always been a community that benefited from an abundance of outdoor activity options with and a focus on natural places, combined with the year-round weather to allow visitors to enjoy those activities. Those that were still travelling during the pandemic sought out destinations like Tucson where they could access & enjoy natural attractions, away from urban centres and large crowds.
Travel And Tour World: Please share in details with our readers how Tucson’s tourism rebounded to the pre-pandemic levels
Graeme Hughes: The “rebound” has been dramatic with visitation exceeding pre pandemic levels. As the region’s Destination Marketing Organization, in concert with our Board of Directors, we made the conscious choice to remain open, active and customer facing throughout the crisis. Launching a robust media plan and keeping our convention sales team intact and engaged with the market. This approach allowed us to be ready and able to respond to travel demand when it began to return.
Travel And Tour World: What are Tucson’s major tourist attractions you would like to highlight for promoting tourism in the region?
Graeme Hughes: As with so many things “Tucson” a primary focus is on the outdoors & nature. The city rests in a valley surrounded on five sides by spectacular mountain ranges reaching elevations up to 9,000 feet above sea level and the city is bordered on both the east & west sides by Saguaro National Park. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and much more are available to the adventure seeker. Tucson’s “culinary scene” is a big part of our identity, having been designated a “World City of Gastronomy” in 2015 by UNESCO, the first in North America! Add that in with great museums, world class resorts, Destination Spas and authentic Working Dude Ranches and Tucson has broad appeal.
Travel And Tour World: What are your target markets for both inbound and outbound tourism?
We are seen by many as a “seasonal” destination and we market extensively in North American “Cold Weather” cities during the winter months (think Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle etc.) but Tucson is really a year-round destination. We are heavily invested in regional (the US Southwest) marketing, targeting Southern California and the west coast.
Travel And Tour World: How many events have you secured successfully in the years post-pandemic? What are your plans to revive Tucson’s MICE scene?
Graeme Hughes: The MICE scene is officially “revived”! In a broad project that was initiated well before the pandemic, Tucson invested $60 million in an expanded & renovated Tucson Convention Center as private developers built two new hotels in the downtown core. All of this came to fruition as the pandemic ended. In 2022 Visit Tucson confirmed337 separate meetings/groups with a total attendee count of just over 54,000 people occupying 138,000 hotel room nights. We’re on track to exceed those numbers in 2023!
Travel And Tour World: Where do you wish to see Tucson’s tourism industry in the next five years?
Graeme Hughes: We’re seeing the impact of current visitation levels result in new tourism infrastructure, new hotels, attractions, transportation options (increased flights) and visitor services, with a focus on responsible growth and public policy that preserves the natural areas and open space our visitors are drawn to. Tucson will continue to attract those travellers that are seeking unique cultural, culinary, and outdoor/natural experiences. Our community recognizes visitation & tourism as an economic engine for Southern Arizona and is committed to maintaining growing our position as a diverse & welcoming destination!