Scottsdale to rope in high-income travelers - East Valley Tribune: News

Scottsdale to rope in high-income travelers

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Posted: Saturday, October 11, 2008 7:55 pm | Updated: 8:48 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A cowboy hoists a martini to toast a starry nighttime desert vista in an ad that local tourism leaders hope conveys an impression of Western elegance. A crystal chandelier hangs from the sky above an elaborately gowned woman and a cactus-strewn landscape in another odd juxtaposition of images.

Both ads are part of a new marketing campaign the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau plans to launch in January.

The new marketing approach targets those people still traveling despite a spiraling economy that is expected to screech U.S. tourism to almost a halt as those who have lost jobs and net worth - or those who are afraid they soon might - stay home in droves.

The ad campaign's target audience is the wealthy, mature, sophisticated, urban crowd that likes to chill out in winter at a luxury resort, said Brent DeRaad, executive vice president of the tourism bureau.

The urban sophisticate is 35 to 54 years old, has an annual income topping $150,000 and lives in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or another urban capital, he said.

That demographic has always been Scottsdale's bread-and-butter business, DeRaad said. And, fortunately, the urban sophisticates are still vacationing, albeit in smaller numbers than usual, despite the economy, he said.

The images will remind them that Scottsdale is their kind of town - upscale, but with a desert background that differentiates the city from other sunny destinations, he said.

"People are traveling less, but these are people with more than $150,000 annual household income," he said. "They are impacted (by the recession) but they still have the wherewithal to travel. We want a bigger market share (of that business)."

Scottsdale bed tax collections, surcharges paid by hotel guests, slipped 2 percent during the last 12 months compared with the previous year's take.Even more worrisome, bed tax collections sank 19 percent in July and August compared with those same months in 2007.

Summer is the slow season for Valley hotels and resorts, so the bottom-line impact isn't great, but the gloomy downturn is worrisome for local industry leaders who fear it could be a bellwether for the hugely important winter business.

The worry is well-founded.

Marriott international, which owns more than a dozen hotel brands from Ritz-Carlton to Fairfield Inn, said last week that third-quarter profits fell 28 percent compared with the same period in 2007. Even more ominous, Marriott said 2009 is expected to be worse.

There are other omens.

Most of the Valley's winter visitors arrive by air, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport officials have predicted a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in passengers for 2009.

At the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch, Thanksgiving business is down, but Christmas reservations are holding steady, said Ann Lane, resort spokeswoman.

Still, even if the number of guests isn't slipping, spending is.

"Not as many are booking suites," Lane said.

It's too soon to say how the so-important January-to-March business will be, since those who do travel are making reservations on much shorter notice these days, she said.

The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale is being proactive, developing packages for the winter that entice guests with offers of a free night's stay and other perks that add value and could seal a deal with an undecided vacationer, said Kim Cole, Four Seasons' spokeswoman. "We are trying to be creative," Cole said. "Travel is an important part of the luxury consumer lifestyle. Even in difficult economic times, it's not something they want to give up, So we have to be as attractive as possible to draw the strong bookings."

DeRaad said the new marketing campaign cost about $150,000 to produce, and the bureau plans to spend about $600,000 placing the ads in high-end consumer travel magazines in December and January.

Then they'll cross fingers and hope the ads hit home with the still well-heeled. "Even with the new campaign, we expect a decline in business year over year," DeRaad said. "We are entering a time when none of us know just what to expect."

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