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Several Factors Contributing to Mixed Tourism Figures

Tourism seems to be picking up across the country and in the state of Arizona, following a 2009 crash related to the economy. But some aspects of Flagstaff’s tourism appear a bit slower to catch up.

Nationally, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism, hotels are doing a little better than they did last year. Occupancy went up about five percent across the country. Those numbers held true regionally, statewide and for the Phoenix metro area. But in Flagstaff, occupancy rates went down a little over three percent from last year, both for the year and in the month of May, the last month recorded in the state’s statistics. According to the Flagstaff Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), June is shaping up to be only slightly better – about two percent beneath June of last year.

Susan Azar, director of sales and marketing at the Radisson Woodlands Hotel, says occupancy figures there roughly mirror the Flagstaff numbers.

“Our May was down from 2010. Our June was almost flat,” she said, referring to room revenue figures. As for July, “If there is any growth, it will be really marginal.”

Azar says group stays have kept the Radisson’s business afloat, while leisure business (“the folks just coming up for a weekend”) has been off. And it’s not as if this May simply paled in comparison to a stellar month last May.

“In May 2010, we were down from the year before, almost two percent,” she said. “We’ve been down ever since the recession hit. Our hotel was significantly affected.”

But Heather Ainardi, director of the Flagstaff CVB, points to an Arizona Office of Tourism graph showing that Flagstaff’s revenue per available room (RevPAR), another key tourism indicator, has increased slightly over 2009, the year the recession hit. The RevPAR in 2010 hasn’t recovered to 2007 levels, she says, but it hasn’t decreased as dramatically as it has in other areas of the state.

“And looking at 2010 as compared to 2000, only Flagstaff and non-metro Arizona have shown increases in RevPAR,” she said.

Jacki Lenners, also at the CVB, explains that three indicators work together to diagnose the state of the hotel industry.

“While hotel occupancy in Flagstaff for May was down slightly, both the average daily rate and RevPAR saw increases,” she pointed out. “Occupancy is only one piece of the puzzle, and getting the hotel rates and, ultimately, the revenues back up are critical components of the health of the tourism industry.”

Another key tourism indicator that includes restaurants is the Bed, Board & Beverage tax, or BBB. Ainardi says BBB taxes for the fiscal year to date – July 2010 through May 2011 – have been up 3.9 percent over the year before, and they’re competing with record BBB tax revenues in 2008.

As for why BBB taxes would be up and hotel occupancy would be down, “we don’t have a sense,” she said. “It could be people staying in one hotel room rather than getting two. It could be people coming up for the day, or staying in other towns.”

It appears that visitation at one of Northern Arizona’s main draws, the Grand Canyon, has been holding steady, if not booming. The general trend in the past decade has been on the rise, although there were about 4.4 million visitors in 2007 and 2008, and about 4.3 million visitors in 2009 and 2010. Recreational visits to the park in the month of May, the most recent month that’s been analyzed, are up about five percent over the same month last year.

Azar says even if hotel occupancy does rebound across the city, individual hotels may not see recovery at the same rate. That’s because would-be occupants have more choices now.

“They built the Courtyard,” she said. “They renovated AmeriSuites, now SpringHill Suites. The Drury Inn & Suites came in. All three of those nice, new properties came in at the same time. Now there’s a surplus in the market that competes directly with us.“

Ainardi says all the hotels can rightfully expect a boost with the Cardinals training camp that headed into town at the end of July.

“That’s going to be a boost for our economy. Over 80 percent of visitors to the Cards training camp are from out of town,” she said, citing an NAU analysis.

Last year, NAU and the Cardinals signed a three-year contract extension that will keep the team’s training camp at NAU’s Flagstaff campus through 2012. FBN









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