|By Levi J. Long, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Dec. 7, 2006 - Tucson's upcoming tourism season may hit new highs, local resort managers and hospitality officials say.
Several factors, including advanced room reservations, convention bookings, big-name events and recent occupancy rates, may support that sunny assessment.
"Everyone is optimistic about next year," said Brian Johnson, president of the Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association.
The association -- which counts 40 local hotels and resorts as members -- reports solid room reservations and convention bookings going into 2007, said Johnson, who is also general manager of the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive.
The first four months -- from January through April -- are Tucson's high season and time when we have our best weather, Johnson said.
"And when you look at next year, it looks fantastic," he said.
The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 3800 E. Sunrise Drive, reports it is up 12 percent from 2006 for conventions and groups expected to stay at the resort, said Mark Lindsey, La Paloma's director of sales and marketing.
"Our advanced bookings are very favorable," he said. We expect the entire industry to do well."
Bookings from January through April are also strong at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort & Spa, 2727 W. Club Drive, said David Morgan, Omni's general manager.
"It's about 10 percent above the same period from last year," Morgan said.
Other factors favoring the local industry include not having any catastrophes facing the U.S. and good air traffic coming into Tucson, Johnson added.
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau is counting on several big events in coming months, including the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase and the World Golf Championship's Accenture Match Play Championship in February.
"It means worldwide exposure. ... You can't put a price tag on that," said Rick Vaughan, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the bureau, which counts 3.5 million visitors annually to Tucson.
The PGA Tour event, hosted for the first time in Tucson, features top golfers and moves here from Carlsbad, Calif.
It also draws CEOs from Fortune 500 companies around the world, some of whom have booked stays at the 575-room JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, 3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.
"It's very encouraging. It could be one of our best years since 2000," said Johnson, noting that was the year Tucson's lodging industry hit record highs.
Domestic travel in the U.S., however, is expected to grow a modest 1 percent or 2 percent in 2007, according to the Travel Industry Association of America, which released its forecast in November.
But Tucson has a "very healthy" hospitality industry and has no trouble attracting travelers to the region, said Jan Freitag, vice president of Smith Travel Research, a Hendersonville, Tenn.-based company that tracks hospitality trends.
In its last report, area hotels and resorts ended October with a 68.9 percent occupancy rate, according to Smith research. That rate is up from 66.5 percent for the same month in 2005.
"Both those numbers are above 65 percent. It's a healthy number," Freitag said.
The Smith report -- which surveys 146 local hotels and resorts -- also noted a 5.7 percent increase in average room rates for the month, up this year to $93.27 per room. Last year's figure was $88.22.
"When you look at Tucson, they came out of the 9/11 slump quite nicely. It was an excellent rebound," Freitag said.
Key events planned for the Tucson area
--Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, January to February.
--World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship, Feb. 19-25.
--Tucson Rodeo & Parade, Feb. 17-25.
--Tucson International Mariachi Conference, April.
--United States Fencing Association North American Championship tournaments, April and October.
--Major League Baseball spring training, March.
Source: Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau.
--Contact reporter Levi J. Long at 573-4179 or email@example.com.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
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