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Is Scottsdale The New Vegas? It Could Be Getting There As Valley Tourism Recovers

(Photo by Carrie Jung - KJZZ)
Packed clubs in Old Town Scottsdale.

Walk down East Indian Plaza in Scottsdale after 1 a.m. on any given weekend and you'll hear at least five different songs blaring from the area's restaurants and bars alerting bar-goers to begin wrapping up their nights.

Right now, in the middle of a summer season that seems to last eons, the crowd here is mostly Valley residents. But in a few months this area will be teeming with tourists.

"We get a lot of Canadians, from Quebec, Montreal, mostly East Coast," said Ryan Hibbert, CEO of Riot Hospitality Group. "We get a lot from Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City."

Hibbert's organization owns three restaurants and bars in the Scottsdale area. He added that in the last five years business has been steadily growing.

"There’s been a huge transformation in people’s spending patterns," said Hibbert. In 2010, his group's strategy was mostly based on volume and the number of people they could serve. But today they're focusing more on ticket value, as the people that come to his bars are spending almost double what they used to.

"It is kind of a little mini Vegas in my opinion but it has some room to grow," he said. "I think Scottsdale’s market is just at the beginning of our upswing."

Lea Diamond, a managing partner of the Lux Transportation company, said, "We see a lot of East Coast travel for bachelor and bachelorette parties and also a lot of pre-wedding parties."

But the most popular request among her clients is still to visit the Valley's golf courses.

Dr. Kathleen Andereck, the director of community resources at Arizona State University, says there has been a steady increase of visitors to the Valley over the last five years and those tourists are traveling longer distances to get here. "So we could very well see that influx from people from farther away just based on the improving economy," she explained.

And in this post recession economy, Andereck explained people are now visiting Arizona for more than just outdoor adventures like the Grand Canyon. The Phoenix-area restaurant scene is also starting to earn a name for itself outside of state lines.

"Part of the interest I think we’re seeing in the arts and food culture is that we’re getting a critical mass within a number of areas," she said. 

According to a report from the state tourism office, Phoenix and Central Arizona have seen steady gains in total travel related spending since 2010, growing by nearly 19 percent. By 2015, travelers spent roughly $1.36 billion in the area.

Breaking that down a bit, in 2015 Scottsdale saw roughly 8.6 million visitors, Tempe hosted 4 million, and overall, the Phoenix metro saw more than 19 million visitors.

So while natural attractions like the Grand Canyon are still commanding the top spots for tourism in the state, Andereck said you shouldn’t count the big city out either.

"People actually want to stay down here when they come and visit and do the kinds of things that are down here, you know, First Friday and the other sports events," she added.

And barring any major economic crisis, or controversial political decisions, she explained the trend is expected to grow.

Carrie Jung Senior Field Correspondent, Education Desk Carrie Jung began her public radio career in Albuquerque, N.M., where she fell in love with the diverse cultural scene and unique political environment of the Southwest. Jung has been heard on KJZZ since 2013 when she served as a regular contributor to the Fronteras Desk from KUNM Albuquerque. She covered several major stories there including New Mexico's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage and Albuquerque's failed voter initiative to ban late-term abortions. Jung has also contributed stories about environmental and Native American issues to NPR's Morning Edition, PRI's The World, Al Jazeera America, WNYC's The Takeaway, and National Native News. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in marketing, both from Clemson University. When Jung isn't producing content for KJZZ she can usually be found buried beneath mounds of fabric and quilting supplies. She recently co-authored a book, "Sweet And Simple Sewing," with her mother and sister, who are fabric designers.