Tucson region led Arizona tourism spending rebound in 2021 | Business

The Tucson region led a rebound in Arizona’s hospitality industry in 2021, posting the biggest increase in travel spending statewide as the industry recovered from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

But direct travel spending in Pima County and across the state still lagged pre-pandemic levels, according to a report from the Arizona Office of Tourism.

The agency’s data shows that Pima County led the state in percentage gains for direct travel spending by visitors, posting a 77.3% year-over-year increase from $1.3 billion in 2020 to $2.4 billion in 2021, and a 43.7% increase in local and state tax revenue from $135 million in 2020 to $194 million in 2021.

Sectors posting year-over-year revenue increases in Pima County included accommodations and food services; arts, entertainment and recreation; retail; and ground transportation.

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Felipe Garcia, President and CEO of Visit Tucson, said the results reflect the pent-up demand for travel to Pima County in 2021.

“Tucson is fortunate to be a destination that captivates the imaginations of so many,” Garcia said. “The myriad outdoor recreational activities, distinct hotels and resorts and thriving food scene positioned us well for a significant rebound when people began to feel comfortable enough to travel again.”

Despite the overall results, some sectors continued to suffer, with revenue falling 14.8% from 2020 to 2021, Visit Tucson noted.

And direct travel spending by visitors to Pima County in 2021 still fell short of 2019, when it reached an all-time high of $2.6 billion.

Statewide, meanwhile, direct travel spending rose more than 58% in 2021 from 2020, to $23.6 billion, but that was still about 8% below spending of $25.6 billion in 2019, the Office of Tourism report showed.

“Tucson and Pima County still have some ground to make up before we reach our pre-pandemic direct travel spending by visitor levels,” said Garcia. “But these numbers are very promising, and they’ve spurred a lot of optimism.”

Among the bright spots, Pima County’s hospitality industry posted an overall gain in jobs of 4.9% in 2021, with year-over-year gains of 7% in accommodations and food services and 8.5% in arts, entertainment and recreation, while retail jobs grew about 5%.

But many local hospitality-related companies say they are still short-staffed amid a nationwide labor shortage in the industry, and high inflation also threatens the tourism recovery, Visit Tucson said.

The local tourism industry may see further advances in 2022, judging from improvement in hotel results for the winter tourism season.

Hotel occupancy in the Tucson market averaged 71% from January through April, up 28% from the same period in 2021 but still short of the 77% occupancy posted in 2019, according to the global hospitality data and analytics company STR.

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