Scottsdale Tourism Leaders Work to Make City a Hip Destination

September 16, 2005 | By Laura Newpoff

Competition for tourism dollars is heating up in the Valley of the Sun.

The Arizona Cardinals’ new stadium will make Glendale a destination point. Expansion of downtown’s Phoenix Civic Plaza will make that facility a bigger draw for top-dollar meetings. And there looks to be no slowing of the development of high-end resorts, spas and golf properties in the region’s every nook and cranny.

The city of Scottsdale plans to find ways to contend with the “increasing competition from other Valley cities” as it crafts a new five-year tourism development and marketing strategic plan.

Even so, local and national tourism experts say it’s not competition from its neighbors that will have the greatest impact on the city and the region as a future travel hot spot.

“California, Florida, Mexico, the cruise industry—the competitive bar is being raised pretty significantly,” said Mitch Nichols, president of Phoenix-based Nichols Tourism Group, a research and advisory firm for the industry.

After a request for proposal process, Nichols’ firm was picked in partnership with Strategic Leisure of Maryland and the National Laboratory on Tourism & eCommerce at Temple University to develop the five-year plan that should be finished in December.

To continue to position itself as the region’s premiere travel location, the city of Scottsdale, in conjunction with its Convention and Visitors Bureau, will use the plan to better understand “tomorrow’s travel consumer.” A new plan surfaces every five years, but this time, Nichols said the effort will be more involved.

“Historically, a destination focuses primarily on marketing to targeted customer segments, and that’s the primary role of a CVB,” he said. “But increasingly, there’s more of a focus on product development; not just saying, ‘Who do we attract?’ but what are the products, how do we craft and mold our products for these customer segments?’”

The plan involves eight tasks, such as understanding market changes—including the emergence of mixed-use hotel products—and identifying new segments of the meeting market related to emerging industries such as biotechnology.

“The future of tourism in Scottsdale is critical, not only because of the industry’s economic impact, but also because of the way it shapes and enhances Scottsdale’s quality of life,” said Rachel Pearson, a Scottsdale CVB spokeswoman.

Even though areas of the Valley are becoming entertainment and hospitality havens—think of Kierland Commons in Phoenix and Tempe Town Lake—Scottsdale’s biggest rivals are out-of-state, warm-weather markets, Nichols said.

Scott White, executive vice president of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees.

He thinks Phoenix, Scottsdale and neighboring cities have grown together, borders have been erased, and a stronger travel destination as a whole has emerged.

“It’s about competing with San Diego and Las Vegas and other cities,” White said. “With the development of the Camelback Corridor, Desert Ridge and Kierland Commons, that allows us to go to market and say, ‘Here’s the evolution of Phoenix as a destination.’

“If you’re from Chicago, you don’t care if you’re in Phoenix or Scottsdale as long as it’s delivering the service, the product and you’re getting the right experience,” he said.

As the development and marketing plan progresses, the Scottsdale CVB is using the services of Neil Howe to arm the group with critical research about who tomorrow’s travelers will be and how best to appeal to them.

Howe, a historian, economist and demographer based in Great Falls, Va., is co-author of several best-selling books, including “Generations,” a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. His clients have included Ford Motor Co., Hewlett Packard and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Specifically, Howe is examining qualitative changes in attitudes toward leisure. He said Scottsdale needs to be prepared for a shift in which Generation Xers (those born from 1961 to 1981) gain more economic clout and how that impacts travel and leisure.

“Xers like things to be quick and entertaining and fun immediately,” Howe said.

So that means the baby boomer’s beloved sport of golf might not hold as much influence with Xers’ pocketbooks.

Scottsdale’s biggest challenge, Howe said, will be to develop a signature brand that appeals to aging baby boomers, who now range in age from 43 to 60. To appeal to this huge demographic, Scottsdale will need to preserve its Sonoran Desert art experience and balance that with the ongoing pressures of development, he said.

The city’s greatest opportunity, Howe thinks, will be to create a “vibrant, neo-urban” downtown for a new “mid-life” generation of Xers.

“Scottsdale is probably not doing as well as it could, and other cities are outpacing it,” Howe said. “Tempe has come on strong, as have towns in California, Washington and Colorado.”

“They need to create these environments that are more cosmopolitan, have a faster pace and an entrepreneurial spirit. Then, generations Xers will feel at home,” he added.

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