Mesa is wooing Canadians. Tempe is trying to attract gay travelers. Scottsdale is still seeking the well-heeled resort lovers the city has been courting for half a century. In the Valley, only the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau is targeting the fastest growing minority travel market — U.S. Hispanics.
East Valley tourism leaders say they know the potential, but to date they have not sought the Hispanic tourist trade.
The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau spends its promotion money trying to attract those who like golf, spas and other upscale pursuits. That includes Mexicans — Scottsdale hotels and even shopping centers tag along on an annual Arizona Office of Tourism promotions push in Hermosillo. But city tourism leaders largely ignore U.S. Hispanics.
Mesa tried but found it fares better schmoozing Canadians, said Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau.
And Tempe, which has been hugely successful at niche tourism marketing, is interested but not ready yet to court Hispanic tourists.
“It’s a market we have our eye on, but it’s a bigger niche market than we have gone after in the past,” said Michael Martin, executive vice president of the Tempe Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’ve had preliminary talks with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and we know it’s a growing market and a powerful economic force.”
Tempe has carved out niches in amateur sports tourneys, gay and lesbian tourism, arts and cultural travel, and even Americans with disabilities, but targeting Hispanic travel “is probably two years down the road,” Martin said.
Part of the problem is figuring out how, Brinton said.
“What’s different? We haven’t been able to identify what it is that we can offer to bring them here,” Brinton said. Mesa tried to target Mexicans, hosting 100 Mexican travel agents and launching several promotions south of the border, but that turned out to be a waste of money, Brinton said.
“The bottom line is if they stopped in Mesa, they were in a hurry to get to Las Vegas, and on the way back, they had spent all their money,” he said.
On the other hand, Mesa has been able to boost Canadian business significantly with promotions. So that’s where Brinton allocates marketing money.
“If we had a lot more money we’d love to target lots of segments,” Brinton said. “But we are so small if we started using half our resources to generate five percent of our business, it wouldn’t be a very smart move.”
The Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, however, is making a push to attract the lucrative and fastgrowing Hispanic tourist market. The bureau established a multi-cultural arm in the mid-1990s. Marc Garcia heads up that effort.
“We knew the demographics were changing at a remarkable rate,” Garcia said. And the fallout from an early 1990s political fiasco surrounding a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, showed the might of minority travel, Garcia said.
“We lost millions of dollars and market share,” he said. “But after the MLK debacle, the local tourism industry rallied.”
Since then, the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau has booked 188 ethnic meetings, generating 182,000 room nights and $173 million in direct visitor spending, Garcia said.
Only 31 of those meetings were for Hispanic organizations, Garcia said, but they resulted in more than $40 million in direct visitor spending.
They included some huge groups. The National Council of La Raza met in Phoenix in 2004 and attracted 12,000 attendees — 4,000 of them from out of town — plus hundreds of vendors who participated in the accompanying trade show.
Besides scattering convention-goers in hotels throughout the metro area, the Valley-wide tourism bureau placed several smaller meetings in East Valley hotels including the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community and the Pointe South Mountain Resort in Ahwatukee, Garcia said.
Coming in 2008 to the JW Marriott Resort at Desert Ridge in northeast Phoenix is a 2,000-strong gathering of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting, he said. Several smaller get-togethers are also on the Valley’s short-term roster, he said.
But there’s much more business out there going elsewhere, Garcia said.
About half of Valley visitors overall are meeting attendees. That’s a positive. Meetings generate lots of extra spending for equipment usage, meeting space usage, food and beverage service and other services that vacationers don’t use.
And Hispanic meeting-goers typically generate even more spending.
“They are very family-oriented. They bring the family and spend more pre- and post-conference time. And they typically spend more money on food, beverages and souvenirs,” Garcia said.
Another bonus: Many Hispanic groups schedule meetings in summer, typically a slow season for local hotels, he said. The U.S. Hispanic meetings industry has gotten so big, it has spawned ethnic-specific organizations and publications.
“There are thousands of organizations, small, medium and large, and this is a market any state should be trying to get a piece of,” said Margaret Gonzalez, president of the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals.
“More than 7,000 Hispanic associations have conferences every year,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an untapped market.”
Hispanic meeting planners want the same thing non-Hispanics want — good accommodations and good value, Gonzalez said.
You don’t have to speak Spanish to attract the Hispanic organizations, she said, but you do have to establish a connection.
“Hispanics go to destinations they relate to,” Gonzalez said. Garcia has been meeting with Hispanic meeting planners nationwide and local Hispanic industry leaders, and he is establishing a database of all multi-cultural conferences to determine who to woo, when and how in order to win the business.