Experience Scottsdale’s annual report to Paradise Valley officials shows investment in the local tourism powerhouse is bringing new guests to the area with a positive return on investment.
Experience Scottsdale CEO Rachel Sacco presented to Paradise Valley Town Council the overall remits for its annual funding --- which includes visitors from around the country, bringing in business meetings to the Paradise Valley and Scottsdale areas and soliciting the desert landscape as a desirable place to visit.
Experience Scottsdale’s mission is to promote the area as a year-round destination for meeting planners and vacationers alike.
The organization’s partnership began about 32 years ago, Ms. Sacco says. Now, Paradise Valley is home to about 10 highly regarded resorts, which are reportedly seeing record years.
Through a partnership between the municipality and Experience Scottsdale, the town is seeing nearly $40 million in tax revenues over a four-year period --- a point of fact that allows residents to live property tax free.
While the annual revenue and efforts by Experience Scottsdale remain positive, all parties agree, the burgeoning questions by Town Council members shed light on issues top of mind for local policymakers.
In the last fiscal year, the communications department has been important to Experience Scottsdale as it has recruited travel writers to write about Paradise Valley or its resorts in more than 500 articles --- a number Ms. Sacco contends generates an equivalent of $4.2 million worth of advertising dollars.
In addition, the organization promotes Scottsdale and Paradise Valley in other cities across the world, particularly those with cooler temperatures, to peak interest in a warm-weather destination.
“We’re looking at the main areas that would move the needle to create economic prosperity through the tourism and resort industry for this community,” Ms. Sacco explained.
A large portion of hotel guests in the area are coming to the Valley for professional meetings. Ms. Sacco says in fiscal year 2018-19, there were 177 bookings --- accounting for meeting their annual goal of 80 meetings by 221%.
Overall, Ms. Sacco says one of the strongest tools utilized by Experience Scottsdale is relationship building.
“We are in an industry that is very transient. People are deployed left and right from other places, so to build a relationship and have longevity as we do at Experience Scottsdale is really a boon for our clients because we have top professionals we have kept in this marketplace,” Ms. Sacco said.
“When a meeting planner calls us, it is wonderful they get to work with the same person year after year, and know that trust and relationship has grown and is built. That counts for business for all of us.”
Moreover, Ms. Sacco says the organization has been asked to use everything in the Experience Scottsdale toolbox to increase sales tax, privilege and bed tax, with a goal of generating over $40 million in sales and bed tax as a result of the tourism industry.
“Just through August of this last year, we are well on our way,” Ms. Sacco said, pointing out more than $39 million has been generated. “That doesn’t count for this fiscal year, so we feel really confident we can achieve that goal on your behalf. This has been a very prosperous year not only for our resorts but also our town.”
Experience Scottsdale’s Board Chairman Doug Heaton also provided some insight to Paradise Valley Town Council. Mr. Heaton also serves as the general manager for the Doubletree Resort by Hilton Paradise Valley-Scottsdale.
“Because of Experience Scottsdale’s marketing and promotion, when people in Los Angeles, or New York, or Chicago, when they think of Scottsdale, they’re also thinking of my Doubletree in Paradise Valley,” Mr. Heaton said.
“They’re thinking about the Omni, the Sanctuary, Mountain Shadows, Andaz, Camelback Inn and the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.”
Mr. Heaton says Experience Scottsdale is focused on hitting top markets and attracting high-end visitors that each individual property wouldn’t be able to reach.
“I can’t stress how important Experience Scottsdale is to our town and to our resorts,” Mr. Heaton said. “Each of our resorts invests in membership in Experience Scottsdale, but also we are actively participating with Experience Scottsdale because we see returns on investment of money, time and effort.”
A handful of Town Council members asked questions of Experience Scottsdale, which shed some additional light on the reported success of the tourism industry.
For resorts in Paradise Valley, many are touting their best record year, Ms. Sacco said in response to a question posed by Councilwoman Anna Thomasson about comparing leisure visitors vs travel groups.
Ms. Sacco says it’s hard to identify exactly how many leisure visitors come to the area, but they do measure several areas of their efforts to get the best count possible.
“We do know that as we look at the health of the destination and we see bed tax rising, we see in comparison to other communities through the state and throughout the country, as our occupancy is going up more, so is our rate and amount spent per available room is going up in high proportion to other communities,” Ms. Sacco said.
“We feel we’re doing our job to get the right visitor here. Most properties here will tell you they’ve had their best year on record, ever --- even in their high-water mark years before the recession.”
The leisure visitor amount is rising, Ms. Sacco says, stating right now it’s over 10 million visitors --- up significantly from 1.5-2 million from the last time the research was conducted.
In terms of efficiency, Ms. Sacco says the organization looks at how much of their budget is going to programs.
“As we look at our total --- what makes up our budget --- the Town of Paradise Valley is 11% of our budget. You are receiving way more than 11% in return for this destination, in part because you are able to avail yourself of not just an under-$2 million budget, but a $16 million budget and the ad-buy that comes with that, the staff that comes with that, the PR, and everything that comes with that as well,” she said.
Councilwoman Julie Pace asked a few questions of the tourism experts, curious about international flights and the fluctuation of international travelers coming to the United States.
“I would like to take a little deeper dive --- how has, what’s the numbers been for international tourists? Is that still going down?” Ms. Pace asked. “Also, anything on non-stops and international flights to bring new people here for the market.”
Ms. Sacco says for many years, Experience Scottsdale has been working closely with Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to get new flights to the Valley.
In particular, a German airline, Condor, has recently begun flying into the area.
“This last year, our executive committee and the board actually directed us to invest in a program that would help Condor Airlines --- an airline that the Phoenix Sky Harbor was working to bring here, and did successfully bring here,” Ms. Sacco said. “But they brought them here in part because organizations such as Experience Scottsdale and other [Destination Marketing Organizations] such as Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe, banded together and promised we would provide some marketing dollars in Condors network.”
Ms. Sacco says it was great to work with represents in Frankfurt and other areas in Europe to spread the word.
“The Condor folks came out last spring, and basically they were so pleased and the flight was so successful, that they expanded the time period on either end --- when they start and when they will finish --- it was so successful that now we’re in talks with EuroWings,” she said.
In addition, American Airlines has instituted a direct, daily flight from Phoenix to London that is doing quite well, Ms. Sacco said.
Ms. Sacco says there is a gap in being able to measure international visitors outside of Canada and Mexico, noting the four most important countries for Experience Scottsdale are Canada, Mexico, Germany and the United Kingdom.
“What we’re seeing, we’re actually gaining. What we see overall is that while the numbers of international travelers coming to our country at-large is not necessarily gaining, they’re traveling. They’re going elsewhere for a variety of reasons. We in Arizona feel we’re making some headway. We’re definitely trying to double-down on that,” she said.
From a resort standpoint, Ms. Sacco says the short-term rental boom is difficult to combat.
“From our resort standpoint, this is not what we call the tourism industry. In the tourism industry, in terms of our resorts, this is not necessarily something that we feel is rising all of our boats,” Ms. Sacco said.
“But it is something that we’re not able to combat. We are dealing with it, it is here. At least from our standpoint, and all of us in the resort industry, at least they are being held to some accountable standards.”
In a report to the Paradise Valley Town Council shared with Independent Newsmedia, hotel occupancy for the town is at 68.5%, with an average daily room rate of $238.34. This equates to an average revenue per room of $163.32.