Ah. The good old days.

You, know, like last year.

The Arizona Department of Tourism just issued glowing figures on Arizona’s booming tourist industry – the mainstay of rural counties like Navajo and Apache.

Setting records – 194,000 jobs, $3.8 billion in tax revenue, lots of cash sloshing through rural economies catering to the ebb and flow of flatlanders.

Ah. Simpler times.

You know, like last year.

The statistics from 2019 captured a booming economy, especially when it comes to spending on travel, outdoor recreation and tourism – back before the lockdowns and the stay-at-home orders and the cancelled parades and the spaced out tables in the restaurants.

In Apache County, tourism generated $10 million in tax revenue and supported 1,500 jobs – a whopping 5.4% of all of the jobs in the county, which struggles with a chronically high unemployment rate.

Navajo County did even better. Tourism generated $33 million in tax revenue and supported 4,000 jobs – 9.4% of the jobs in the county.

Shudder to think what the 2020 statistics will look like, with COVID-19 peaking for a second time with no end in sight. The Department of Tourism has announced a “recovery” plan for the industry, with advice for each city and county on how to climb back on their touristy feet – but right now the hotels and restaurants are mostly just trying to survive to next month.

So let us linger on the 2019 numbers – with record-breaking peaks in the number of visitors and how much they spent, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT).

Some 47 million people stayed overnight on a trip statewide, a 3% increase over 2018. Better yet, they spent 5% more than the year before.

The flood of visitors spent $26 billion, pumping $70 million a day into the economies of 90 towns and communities. All that spending supported 194,000 jobs directly and 361,000 support jobs.

Add up the amount of tax money generated and it works out to $1,400 for every Arizona household.

“We’re proud to recognize the efforts of so many across Arizona’s travel industry which resulted in these record-breaking benchmarks,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. “While we’re very focused on the recovery of our industry during the next year, this 2019 data helps reinforce the critical role a strong tourism industry plays in Arizona’s economic re-energization.”

The statistics for Navajo and Apache counties did have a couple of odd quirks. In both counties, spending by tourists jumped – but the number of jobs supported declined.

In Navajo County, visitors spent $376 million – a 10% increase from the year before. Only Graham County had a higher percentage increase.

Great news. Right? But somehow, that increased spending supported 5% fewer jobs than the year before. Go figure. The Department of Tourism analysis didn’t offer an explanation for the discrepancy.

Nonetheless, all that spending by visitors generated $910 in tax money per household in Navajo County.

Same thing happened in Apache County. Tourism spending rose 4% to $124 million. However, the 1,500 jobs that supported declined by 3%.

Statewide, spending rose 5% but the jobs supported rose just 1%.

Don’t expect such a glowing report next year, with COVID-19 all but eliminating international tourism and hotels, restaurants and other mainstays of the tourist economy which suffer major losses in revenue – even when they’re still open.

The U.S. Department of Labor recorded a 15% decrease in Arizona’s “leisure and hospitality” jobs as of June, the hardest hit sector in the entire economy.

Just when the state finally eased the two-month long “stay at home” order, a bone-dry spring and several big wildfires, which prompted the Forest Service to shut down the Tonto National Forest and impose tough fire restrictions on the other forests in northern Arizona.

Even as the monsoon arrived, a new surge in COVID-19 cases hung over the travel and tourism industry statewide.

Still, if things ever get back to normal – the 2019 figures dovetail with Navajo County’s economic development plans, which stress both tourism and luring people up north for telecommuting careers in the new age of Zoom business meetings.

The county has been working on a marketing and promotion campaign to tout the region’s outdoor, small town lifestyle – partly as a way to offset the ongoing decline in once foundational job sectors like mining coal, running coal-fired power plants, logging, paper mills and other industrial activities.

So the 2019 tourism figures show we’re right on track.

Well, at least we were.

Back in the good old days.

Tourism in Apache County in calendar year 2019:

· Generated $10.2 million in state and local tax revenue.

· Generated $420 in tax revenue per household.

· Supported 1,540 tourism industry jobs in 2019, representing 5.4% of all county jobs.

· Tourism jobs decreased by 3%.

· Visitors spent $124 million, up 4.1%.

Tourism in Navajo County in calendar year 2019:

· Generated $33 million in state and local tax revenue.

· Generated $920 in taxes per household, the most in the state.

· Supported 3,940 tourism industry jobs, representing 9.4% of all county jobs.

· Tourism jobs decreased 4.7%.

· Visitors spent $376 million, an increase of 10% and second only to Graham County

Topline Arizona Visitation (all new records):

· 46.8 million domestic and international overnight visitors, up 3%.

· $25.6 billion in direct travel spending, up 4.7%.

· $70.1 million in direct travel spending daily.

· Tax revenue generated totaled $1,400 per Arizona household.

· 194,300 industry-related jobs, up 1%.

Tourism Tax Revenue Generated:

· $3.78 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues, up 4.2%.

· Tourism contributed $1.56 billion in federal taxes, up 4.1%.

· Tourism contributed $1.05 billion in state taxes, up 4.1% — nearly 10% of the state budget.

· Tourism contributed $1.16 billion in local taxes, up 4.5%.

International Visitation:

· The 6.1 million international overnight visitors rose 3.8%.

· Mexico accounted for 4 million visits, up 5.2%.

· Germany (145,400), United Kingdom (126,500), France (115,900), Japan (81,000) and China (77,100) rounded out the top five.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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