Apr 132011

By Tammy Gray-Searles —

Like much of the rest of the state, tourism plays an important role in Navajo County’s economy, generating $15.7 million in state and local tax revenues within the county in 2009, a year in which travel spending dropped.

State funding for tourism promotion through the Arizona Office of Tourism has been slashed from the budget. The agency still receives some funding through other sources and will continue to operate, and a public-private partnership may help replace some of the lost funds. Critics of the cuts note, however, that the reductions are not true savings, since the department is one of the few in the state that generates more revenue than it spends.

In any case, travel spending has dropped significantly throughout the state since 2008. The most recent numbers available are from 2009. Totals from 2010 will not be available until July. Overall spending throughout the state dropped by 10.2 percent between 2008 and 2009, and spending for 2009 was below 2005 levels.

According to a report unveiled by the Arizona Office of Tourism, travel spending throughout the state in 2009 was $16.6 billion. In 2008 the total was $18.5 billion, which represented a drop from $19.1 billion in 2007. The totals for previous years were $18.7 billion in 2006, $17.6 billion in 2005 and $15.9 billion in 2004.

In Navajo County, total travel spending in 2009 was $255.9 million. That spending supported 3,010 jobs, and generated $5.7 million in local taxes and $9.9 million in state taxes. Those totals, however, represent a 16.4 percent decrease when compared to 2008.

In 2008, a total of $306 million was generated in direct travel spending in the county. That amount represented a high point compared to previous totals of $290 million in 2007, $283 million in 2006, $260 million in 2005 and $238 million in 2004.

Breaking down the $255.9 million in direct travel spending for Navajo County in 2009, the report found that $40.9 million was spent on accommodations, $48.9 million on food service, $30.9 million in food stores, $49.2 million on transportation (includes gas), $45.4 million on entertainment and recreation, and $40.6 million in “retail sales.”

The report indicated that Navajo County was not the only rural county to generate significant tourism revenue, noting that the total revenue of all counties excluding Maricopa and Pima was double that of those two populous counties combined.

“The impact of traveler spending is relatively more important to Arizona’s rural counties than urban counties,” the report stated.

Two of the five most frequently visited national parks and monuments in the state have a direct impact on tourism revenue in Navajo County. Grand Canyon is the most popular national park, while Canyon de Chelly National Monument ranked number four in the state. National park visitations were up slightly in 2009, with 11.8 million visitors in 2009 compared to 11.6 million in 2008.

Since the late 1990s, however, total visitors to national parks in the state has been down. In 1998, there were 13.1 million visitors to national parks in Arizona. In 1999, there were 13.3 million, in 2000, 13.1 million, and in 2001, 12.4 million. Since that time, the total has hovered between 11.5 million and 11.9 million.

No state parks in or near Navajo County were ranked in the top five most visited, with top ranked Slide Rock State Park being the closest popular state park listed in the report.

Among the top 25 natural attractions in the state that potentially impact Navajo County tourism revenues are Canyon de Chelly with 826,000 visitors in 2009, Petrified Forest with 632,000 visitors, Sunset Crater with 177,000 visitors, Walnut Canyon with 128,000 visitors and Hubbell Trading Post with 102,000 visitors.

Listed in the top 25 private attractions that also potentially help generate travel dollars in the county are Grand Canyon Railway, with 289,000 visitors in 2009, Arizona Snowbowl with 180,000 visitors and Lowell Observatory with 80,000 visitors.