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  • Sky’s the limit in tourism industry

    By Arnold Palacios, Community Services, Employment and Training Director

    Arnold PalaciosIt’s June, which means thousands of area young adults have just earned their diplomas and are looking forward to the next big step in their lives. Most probably don’t realize they could explore the world right here in Pima County.

    I’m talking about the travel and tourism industry. At a recent meeting of Pima County’s Workforce Investment Board, I learned that the travel and tourism industry brings in $2.35 billion annually to our area and $21 billion statewide. The growth potential for this sector, our panelists told us, is virtually unlimited.

    There are a number of ways in which our young people can get involved in this exciting industry:
    • Work as a cook, menu planner, caterer or dining room manager at one of our area’s many restaurants or resorts. Pima Community College offers an associate’s degree in culinary arts. Eventually, you may wish to get certified and accredited as a chef that could lead to jobs with resorts around the world!
    • Don’t be afraid to start entry-level. Many of the local resorts are part of large corporate networks. The JW Marriott Starr Pass, for example, employs more than 700 people here, but has over 7,000 hotels all over the world. Michael Deehan, the human resources director at Starr Pass, told us more than half of their managers started off among the hourly ranks.
    • Get some grit. Mr. Deehan said one characteristic he sees lacking in young people is the ability to set a goal, then have the perseverance to finish it. “A lot of people 35 and younger are told they can make it to the top of the mountain. But sometimes we forget to tell them there is a mountain they have to climb first.”
    The effect of the tourism industry on Pima County has an impact far beyond the resorts and spas. The 6.5 million overnight visitors drawn to the area result in $197 million in direct tax revenue collection and create more than 25,000 tourism-related jobs. 

    Mountain lion at Desert MuseumPima County’s is even becoming a movie hot spot. The County’s Attractions and Tourism Office works with Sports Tucson and Film Tucson, both divisions of Visit  Tucson (the County’s destination marketing organization), which oversees permits to film on County properties. Film Tucson reports that film-related direct spending totaled about $6.3 million so far this fiscal year (from July 2018-March 2019).


    Not surprisingly, visitors who come here and enjoy their stay are likely to be “repeat customers,” all of which enhances the economic welfare of Pima County’s citizens and businesses. In fact, Vanessa Bechtol, senior director of community partnerships with Visit  Tucson, said eight of 10 people who visit Tucson will return. And when they do, they’ll be dining at our restaurants, shopping at our stores and visiting our attractions, everything from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum to Old Tucson to the Chuck Huckelberry Loop

    Folks who want to work in the travel and tourism industry, “have to want to be of service to others,” advised Michael Deehan of Starr Pass, which employs people from all over the world. “But it’s always exciting. You go home from your shift and you always have a story to tell. Your coworkers and guests are very interesting people.”
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