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Local resorts are on the rebound

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 10:40 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - With Arizona’s restrictions lifted (including on event sizes) and some of the lowest COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, resorts are making a comeback.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa had a record-breaking weekend.

“We were actually sold out this past weekend,” said Dan Carraher, the director of sales and marketing. “I think we were down to four rooms available on Friday night. We were running 15% to 18% occupancy for probably the first three, four months [of the pandemic]. Having done this for almost 39 years with Marriott myself, this was probably the worst catastrophe I have been through.”

The golf course was the only amenity at JW Marriott that did not take a hit.

Small events and leisure stays kept the resort afloat for a year. Now, conventions are returning.

“It’s our convention business that is really our staple year round,” said Carraher. “That is really what keeps the lights on.”

Weddings, reunions, business and religious conventions make up the bulk of business.

This fall is already showing promise.

“You have the pent-up demand of people wanting to travel for leisure,” said Dan Gibson, the director of communications at Visit Tucson. “The same thing that is happening with weddings is happening with groups. [With restrictions] lifted, they start trickling back because now you can plan for a date. There is just a lot of demand for it.”

Visit Tucson is also trying to sell more people on the region.

“One of the biggest things about getting meetings and events back on track in southern Arizona is getting meeting and event planners into the market,” said Graeme Hughes with Visit Tucson.

The nonprofit will soon show 30 event planners from across North America what the Tucson area has to offer.

The impact is bigger than the resorts, though. Officials estimate the average leisure resort guest spends an additional $260 at local businesses and attractions.

“It was a $2 billion business of tourism in this community in 2019,” Gibson said.

If we stay on this path, Gibson predicts 2022 will be as strong as 2019.

“[Resorts] will bounce back … maybe even better than ever,” he said.

The biggest challenge resorts is no longer filling rooms, it’s filling jobs. Several positions are available at JW Marriott Tucson.

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