The covid pandemic took a bite out of Arizona and Mohave County’s tourism industries in 2020, even though Lake Havasu City appears to have gotten a boost in visitors over the last year or more.
Although still a multi-billion dollar industry in 2020, the Arizona Office of Tourism announced that tourism brought in significantly less statewide than it did during a record 2019. AOT announced the state received 32.1 million overnight visitors in 2020, which is 31% less than last year. The West Coast Region, comprised of Mohave, La Paz, and Yuma counties, welcomed about 7 million of those overnight visitors. Meanwhile, tourists spent a total of about $15 billion while in Arizona, which was down 41% from the previous year. AOT reports visitors spent $521.3 million in Mohave County alone, which was about 22% less than 2019.
The dip in tourism during the 2020 calendar year was not unexpected, given various stay at home orders, shutdowns and safety precautions taking during the covid pandemic. And state officials received the Office of Tourism’s report enthusiastically.
“Arizona is bouncing back from the pandemic stronger than ever,” said Gov. Doug Ducey. “Tourism is an integral part of Arizona. Our economy is fully reopened and our tourism destinations are ready to welcome visitors from around the country and around the world.”
Mohave County as a whole already starting showing signs of that resurgence during 2020.
Office of Tourism Public Information Officer Josh Coddington said visitors that stayed in a hotel, motel, or short-term rental in Mohave County actually spent about 4% more in 2020 than they did in 2019.
“This could be due to increased interest in outdoor spaces and rural destinations during the pandemic,” Coddington said.
The Office of Tourism’s report also credits visitors with sustaining 160,500 jobs in the state – a 17.4% decrease from 2019 – including 5,580 jobs in Mohave County which is a drop of about 13% from last year.
Along with a decrease in the number of visitors and the amount visitors spent in the state, the tax revenue generated by tourism was down more than a quarter at $2.7 billion in 2020. That includes $718 million in state taxes (31.7% less than 2019) and $786 in local taxes (down 32.3% from last year).
Although the Arizona Office of Tourism doesn’t track statistics for particular cities, sales tax revenues – particularly Lake Havasu City’s 3% bed tax on hotels, motels and short term rentals – suggest that Havasu has fared significantly better than Arizona as a whole. According to Lake Havasu City’s most recent sales tax report, Havasu’s bed tax shot up by 84.4% during FY2020-21. Similarly, the city’s 1% restaurant and bar tax brought in an extra 31.1% than it produced during the previous fiscal year. FY2020-21 includes the last six months of 2020 and the first six months of 2021, so it doesn’t line up perfectly with the data provided by the state from the 2020 calendar year. But Go Lake Havasu CEO Terence Concannon said there is no doubt that Havasu has fared better than some of the larger metropolitan areas in the state.
“The takeaway is, just because we have a lake and our proximity to Southern California which has become our major drive market, we were able to recover a lot quicker and to a greater extent than some of the larger metropolitan areas,” Concannon said. “Our visitors are all leisure travelers but cities like Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe and Tucson rely more on groups and meetings for business. So their recovery is going to take a little bit longer than ours.”
Arizona residents traveling within the state were the most common type of overnight visitor this year, accounting for 9.1 million tourists during 2020. Out-of-state visitors were led by the 6.8 million who came from California and another 2.1 million from Texas.
“Arizonans and visitors from drive markets were crucial to carrying our tourism industry through last year,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Other visitors came to Arizona from a little farther away. New York (1.8 million), Florida (1.5 million), and Illinois (1.2 million) were also among the top states visiting last year.
Concannon said the top states visiting Lake Havasu City has remained remarkably steady in the four years he has been here with Southern California coming in number one, Arizona residents at number two, and Southern Nevada rounding out the top three. He said those areas were back at the top of the list again during the pandemic.
As a result of the global pandemic, international travel was affected more than any other type. According to the Office of Tourism, Arizona hosted 2 million visitors from other countries in 2020 which is 68% less than in 2019. Meanwhile, overseas visitors plummeted by 84%.
The United States’ neighbors were the most frequent visitors to Arizona in 2020 with 1.5 million visitors coming from Mexico (61% fewer than in 2019) and 222,900 from Canada (down 77% from last year). Arizona also had between 20,000 and 10,000 visitors each from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan and Australia – which was between a 79% and 86% decrease from the previous year for each country.
Concannon said international travel to Havasu was similarly affected. He said prior to the pandemic Lake Havasu City drew a fair number of foreign tourists considering the town’s rural location and distance from a major airport. But as the pandemic set in and travel precautions, restrictions, and bans were put into place foreign tourism has fallen close to nothing.
But Concannon is confident that international travelers will return to Lake Havasu City as travel bans and restrictions are lifted. He said Go Lake Havasu is scheduled to attend a major international tourism trade show in Las Vegas in September where they will start testing the waters for international travelers again. Concannon said the visitor’s bureau is scheduled to meeting with various international trade agencies and journalists during the event to pitch Havasu as a potential destination.
“I think the pent up demand has been fueling our recovery now, but I think the international pent up demand is there too,” he said. “We are going to see how much demand there is in September when we meet with these international travel planners. We will find out just how soon we can get them to come back.”