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Tourism Top Economic Driver For Arizona

Travel and tourism revenue is the top economic driver for the state ranked by gross domestic product (GDP), increasing 29 percent post-recession.

Debbie Johnson is the director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. She said compared to other states with larger tourism budgets, Arizona’s travel industry is growing more with less.

“You know, California’s budget is $125 million. Florida’s budget is $75 million. Our budget is $14 million. And people say, well, that’s per person. Well, but, it doesn’t matter,” Johnson said.

Tourism contributed $9.2 billion to the state’s GDP in 2016. That outperformed micro-electronics, agriculture, aerospace and mining, ranked second through fifth.  

“Our whole purpose is to bring people into Arizona, have them spend their money, leave their tax revenue and then head back,” Johnson said.

Updated GDP numbers are due out next month. Johnson said she expects travel numbers to increase again. Almost one-quarter of the travel across the state is by Arizonans. She said about 6 million of the 43 million visitors across the state last year came from abroad.

Johnson said international travelers are making up a higher number of Arizona tourists. They also spend more money, on average, per visit.

Heather van Blokland was a host at KJZZ from 2016 to 2021.