Sacco: Protecting Scottsdale’s tourism industry, economic future

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In a community so dependent on tourism, these are frightening times.

The spread of the coronavirus has transformed Scottsdale into a ghost town as our hotels and downtown core, once bustling with visitors and locals alike, now largely sit empty. During such times, it could be easy to despair.

But that is not in our industry nor our community’s nature, and we cannot let this challenge get the better of us. Even when we are at our lowest, you can always count on hospitality from Scottsdale’s travel and tourism sector.

I have been heartened by the outpouring of support for those who have lost their jobs, those who are risking their lives to care for the sick, and those who have been directly impacted by the virus.

The efforts, from restaurants providing meals for healthcare workers and grocery bundles for residents to businesses creating relief funds for those in the service industry, are powerful. Businesses have made impossible but necessary sacrifices --- for the safety of their employees, our residents and our future visitors --- without the security of knowing if they can pay their rent, receive their next paycheck or one day reopen their doors.

At Experience Scottsdale, we are tightening our belt while working diligently to ensure Scottsdale’s recovery --- whenever that may be possible --- is expedited. We are working with national research partners to keep a pulse on the ever-evolving shifts happening in the industry so that, in the coming months, Experience Scottsdale is fully prepared to focus on the most effective programs, tried-and-true strategies, and new initiatives that will target visitors most likely to travel at the outset – those in local, regional and drive markets.

As we look toward the future, however uncertain that future may be, Scottsdale is fortunate to have some cushioning when it comes to protecting our world-class assets and special events. That’s because 10 years ago, Scottsdale voters had the foresight to approve Prop. 200, a ballot initiative that raised Scottsdale’s bed-tax rate, thus increasing visitor-paid tax dollars collected and reinvested back into the community each year.

The initiative specified the allocation of those dollars, investing annual collections into public services and tourism-related administration, research, events, capital projects and promotions.

Since that decision, bed-tax collections have increased 230%, with the city collecting over $23 million in bed-tax revenue last year. Without the increase approved by voters in 2010, those collections would have been less than $14 million. And without those added millions, Scottsdale would not be as well-situated for the aftermath of COVID-19.

Current travel industry forecasts indicate once the virus passes, pent-up demand should lead people to travel, albeit slowly and closer to home at first.

Tourism will be critical in our city’s recovery, and destination promotion will be at the forefront of that recovery. And with Prop. 200, Experience Scottsdale can ensure Scottsdale remains top of mind with travelers once the world is ready to travel again.

Bed-tax dollars will support Experience Scottsdale’s efforts to deploy advertising campaigns in our top markets for visitation, secure positive editorial coverage in national and international media outlets, educate travel advisors to sell Scottsdale vacations, drive corporate and association groups to meet in Scottsdale, and more.

We can’t plan for that future without also addressing the immediate needs of our industry and community and recognizing the devastating toll of COVID-19 today.

Twenty-eight thousand employees rely on Scottsdale’s thriving tourism industry, and so many have already lost their jobs and livelihoods. Experience Scottsdale is engaging in efforts to convey the needs of our travel workers and our unique small businesses at the city, state and federal level, and we are collaborating with leaders at the city and in the wider business community to protect this industry at the heart of our economy.

We are directing those in need to information on relief funds, employment opportunities and small business loans on SupportScottsdale.com, a website launched in collaboration with the city and the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. We are promoting take-out menus, online retail and virtual offerings on our social media channels.

We are actively working with meetings clients to reschedule their conferences and events, with travel advisors to help them rebook client vacations, and with travel media to keep readers inspired to visit Scottsdale when the time is right.

Due to these efforts and our long-standing relationships with our clients, we are still receiving RFPs for future business and generating positive media coverage for Scottsdale.

Despite these frightening times, I have hope for the future. That hope is in part due to the security provided by Prop. 200 and the means we have to keep Scottsdale a desirable travel destination.

I hope you take some comfort, however small it may be, in knowing that while those at higher levels are addressing the most critical issue at hand --- the spread of the coronavirus --- there are also people working behind the scenes to strategically protect our community’s economic future.

Editor’s note: Rachel Sacco is the president and CEO of Experience Scottsdale, which establishes Scottsdale as a year-round, luxury travel destination.

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