Extraordinary skies, uncommon ground: New tourism marketing efforts increase visitor numbers

Reprinted from SVHerald.com
by Amanda Baillie or the Herald/Review

March 7, 2017

SIERRA VISTA — A new website designed to better promote the greater Sierra Vista area as an ideal tourist destination has been launched.  The move comes at a time when tourism appears to be enjoying a boom across the state, including in Cochise County.

Judy Hector, the city’s marketing and public affairs manager, believes this positive trend is due to more aggressive promotional efforts employed by her department and other community organizations.

That endeavor is set to continue following the re-launch of VistaSierraVista.com last week.

The site now falls in line with the ongoing branding policies being utilized by the city for both economic development and tourism marketing.  “It’s beautiful,” said Hector. “It’s branded and it is much more user friendly.”

In August 2015, the city announced a new marketing strategy based around an updated logo and tagline, “Extraordinary skies, uncommon ground”.

The following year it launched an economic development website using the new brand, before applying the same look to its main site.

Now that the tourism website has followed suit, Hector believes more people will start to take notice of Sierra Vista.

“We’ve always promoted our great activities like hiking, biking and birding,” she said. “But having our strapline really gives those efforts a focus that we can carry through all of our messaging.”

VisitSierraVista.com now has a cleaner, simplified look designed to help visitors plan their trip to the region.  That includes a ‘Top 10” list of must see attractions, activities categorized under interests, and a searchable database of area hotels and restaurants.

Wine enthusiasts will find a complete list of regional vineyards and tasting rooms, and for those that need some inspiration there are road trip and itinerary ideas.

The site now also includes a “Visiting Mexico” page. Recognizing that some visitors want to take advantage of Sierra Vista’s proximity to the border, the city is promoting day trips to Agua Prieta and its sister city, Cananea.  “We know that when people come here, they want to go to Mexico also,” said Hector, who is also chair of the Cochise County Tourism Council.

In late January, Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Office of Tourism Director Debbie Johnson announced that the state’s lodging industry outperformed the national average in 2016.

Rural Arizona, defined as counties beyond Maricopa and Pima, saw an 8.2 increase in hotel occupancy rates, as well as a rise in spending throughout the tourism industry.

“All signs point to growth in tourism revenue, which we’re seeing every month,” said Johnson. “And this tourism revenue will positively impact every county in the state.”

At the Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the naming of Bisbee as the best historic small town, and the ranking of Kartchner Caverns as the nation’s number one cave, by USA Today, were highlighted as factors contributing toward the tourism increase.

In his latest report on retail, hotel and restaurant sales, Cochise College’s Chief Economist Dr. Robert Carreira said Sierra Vista’s lodging receipts were up 5.8 percent for the first eight months of 2016 (the most recent data available) over the same period in 2015.

Restaurant and bar sales were up 3.7 percent for the first eight months of last year.  The city’s visitor center, located at the Oscar Yrun Community Center, has also experienced a rise in tourist numbers, said Hector, whose department won an Arizona Office of Tourism award for its Adventure Guide last year.

The Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce has also reported more people coming through its doors to get information about local attractions, hotels and restaurants, she added.

“I think the increase we are seeing is due to a number of factors,” she said. “We changed our marketing strategy at the Cochise County Tourism Council to utilize more social and electronic media, which is more cost effective and reaches a new audience.

“We’ve also been targeting snowbirds and we are seeing more of them visiting the areas. Additionally, I think the Retire Sierra Vista Program has been adding to that.”  Normajean Maryland, general manager of the Candlewood Suites, said she believes local tourism marketing efforts are starting to reap rewards.

“We have had a tremendous beginning to the year,” said Maryland, who is vice president of the Southeast Arizona Hospitality Association and a member of the city’s Tourism Commission. “I can attest that the efforts of municipal and internal marketing are starting to pay off. We have had so many people, especially older people from Canada, come here because they’ve seen our advertising or an ad in a magazine that has enticed them here. Since January, we’ve also seen a resurgence in government business travel. What we are doing as a brand, and what the city is doing, really seems to be working.”

Travel impact on Cochise County in 2015

  • Tourism generated 3,760 jobs
  • Travel spending amounted to $325.3 million
  • The amount generated in local and state sales tax was $27 million
  • Travellers spent $106.2 million on hotel/motel lodging, compared to $98.5 million in 2014
  • More than $113 million was spent on day travel
  • Visitors spent $85.1 million on food services, $57.9m in food stores, $38.7 million on transportation and gas, $20 million on entertainment and recreation, and $62.4 million on retail purchases.

Source: Arizona Office of Tourism