The University of Arizona. The University of Arizona
Agricultural & Resource Economics
Tourism in the Tucson Metropolitan Area:
Characteristics and Impacts of Overnight Visitors 1995–1996

Entire Publication

Highlights and Executive Summary below

Tourism in the Tucson Metropolitan Area: Characteristics and Impacts of Overnight Visitors 19951996

by Alberta Charney and Julie Leones1

Assisted by: Paul Hoyt, Monica Lopez, Amy Raymond, Alex Moseley, Denise Haefner, Alan Trimmer and Matt Girardi

1 Drs. Charney and Leones are, respectively, a research specialist with the Economic and Business Research program (College of Business and Public Administration) and an extension economist with the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Arizona Cooperative Extension (College of Agriculutre) at The University of Arizona.


This study was funded by the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau (MTCVB). Many thanks to Patrick A. Tierney, President and the staff for providing important information during the research process, providing information on hotel resources in the region, and backing up our requests for cooperation from local hoteliers. We are also grateful to all of the hotels and resorts that cooperated in this study. We thank them both for allowing our student research assistants to contact their guests and distribute surveys and for the supplemental information they provided. We hope that they find the results of this study well worth the effort.

We are thankful to the many visitors to and residents of Tucson who completed surveys for us. We are especially appreciative of the hard work of research assistants Monica Lopez, Amy Raymond, Alex Moseley, Denise Haefner, Alan Trimmer and Matt Girardi. We have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the University's finest undergraduate students. Thanks also to Paul Hoyt, a consultant to the project, whose organizational skills helped this project proceed smoothly.

Many thanks to Linda Taber for design and layout and to Mary Campbell for editing assistance.

Our appreciation also goes to David Taylor, City of Tucson's Planning Program Coordinator, for helping us identify in which communities hotels were located within the Greater Tucson area and providing us with other important data. Thanks to Bill Maxwell from the City of Tucson and Bruce Baseman from Pima County Government for providing revenue data needed to calculate impacts.

Finally, we thank Dennis Cory, Barbara Becker, and Douglas Dunn for peer review. Their comments and criticisms have helped improve this report.


  • How many overnight visitors stayed in the Tucson area between August 1995 and July 1996?

    2.5 million visitors in over 1 million visitor parties

      1.1 million visitors stayed in commercial accommodations for a total of 2.8 million room nights.

    Visitor parties spent a total of 8.9 million nights in Tucson

    The average length of stay was:

      4.8 nights for hotel visitors
      7.5 nights for visitors to private homes
      66.8 nights for winter visitors

  • What was the economic impact of overnight visitors?

    $ 909 million in expenditures in Pima County

    $ 1.5 billion in gross revenue impacts in Pima County

    36,500 jobs directly and indirectly tied to overnight visitors in Pima County 12 percent of all jobs in Pima County

    $ 107.1 million in revenues to state and local government

      $ 62.8 million to the state of Arizona
      $ 16.8 million to Pima County
      $ 27.5 million to the City of Tucson

  • Why were these overnight visitors in the Tucson Metropolitan Area?

    77 percent as leisure visitors
    23 percent primarily on business (43 percent of hotel visitors on business)

  • Where did these overnight visitors come from?

    15 percent from Arizona (outside of Pima County)
    17 percent from California
    14 percent from other Western states
    18 percent from Central states
    17 percent from Southern states
    9 percent from Eastern states
    10 percent from foreign countries

  • What was the age distribution of overnight visitors?

    13 percent were under 18 years of age (vs. 26 percent of U.S. population)
    26 percent were 18 to 35 years (vs. 27 percent of U.S. population)
    39 percent were 36 to 59 years (vs. 30 percent of U.S. population)
    22 percent were 60 and older years (vs. 17 percent of U.S. population)

  • What attractions did overnight visitors see while in the Tucson Metropolitan Area?

    26 percent had members of their visiting party who visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
    17 percent had members who visited Sabino Canyon
    13 percent had members who visited Saguaro National Park
    12 percent had members who visited San Xavier del Bac Mission
    9 percent had members who visited Pima Air and Space Museum
    (Old Tucson Studios was closed during the study)

  • What were some of hotel visitors' leisure activities while in the Tucson Metropolitan Area?

    36 percent went shopping
    32 percent went sightseeing
    25 percent went hiking or walking
    17 percent visited historic sites
    13 percent visited museums
    11 percent played golf
    4 percent attended cultural events

  • How many rooms are available in commercial accommodations in the Tucson Metropolitan Area?

    There are more than 12,800 rooms in hotels, resorts, motels, bed and breakfasts and guest ranches in the Metropolitan Tucson area.

    500 of these rooms have opened since the study was completed in September, 1996.

    Approximately 8,500 rooms are in the City of Tucson (two-thirds of all rooms)

    About 2,150 rooms in the Tucson metropolitan area are in resort and luxury accommodations

Executive Summary

This study is designed to provide estimates of total overnight visitors to the Tucson Metropolitan area, overnight visitor expenditures and the economic and revenue impact associated with those expenditures. It also presents detailed information on why overnight visitors choose Tucson, what attractions they visit, what activities they participate in while they are here, and what their interests are.

This study does not include day-trip visitors to Tucson, for example: day trippers from Mexico and other parts of Arizona who come to Tucson for shopping, sight-seeing or visiting friends and relatives; and visitors who stop or who spend part of a day as they pass through on the interstate highway system. The study does not include travel and tourism expenditures of local residents. The study does not include travel and tourism expenditures made by overnight visitors prior to their arrival in Pima County (ex., airfare).

Estimates of overnight visitor numbers and visitor expenditures were obtained by surveying Tucson guests over a one-year period, from August 1995 through July 1996. Hotel guests were surveyed through a random sample of hotels, and visitors to private homes were surveyed via random telephone and mail surveys. Winter visitors staying in condominiums, town-homes, apartments or single-family homes were also identified through a telephone survey. Estimates for winter visitors staying in RVs were obtained from the Winter Visitor Survey, a study done by the Center for Business Research, College of Business, Arizona State University.

Expenditures for visitors who spend the night in Tucson are $909 million in fiscal year 1995-96. Overnight visitor expenditures generate 36,500 wage and salary jobs either directly or indirectly in the Tucson economy. This represents more than 12 percent of the wage and salary jobs in Pima County (Table 1). Overnight visitors generate $1.5 billion in sales impacts in Pima County. Overnight visitor spending contributes approximately $63 million dollars in tax revenues to the State of Arizona, $17 million to Pima County and $28 million to the City of Tucson (Figure 1).

Table 1. Economic Impacts of Tourism, 1995-96



($ million)




Indirect and induced






 Figure 1. Tourism Revenue Summary for Fiscal 1996
($107.1 million)

figure 1

Lodging represents 26 percent of total expenditures and another 21 percent is spent at eating and drinking establishments (Figure 2). Two-thirds of Tucson's overnight visitor expenditures come from people staying in resorts and hotels. The rest is spent by visitors in private homes; winter visitors staying in condominiums, apartments and houses; and winter visitors staying in RVs and trailers (Table 2).

Figure 2. Expenditure Summary for Tourism, 1995-96, by Categorya

figure 2

a Category breakdown for winter visitors who stayed in RVs or trailers was based on a 1994 survey of Phoenix winter visitors, conducted by the Center for Business Research, College of Business, Arizona State University.

Table 2. Expenditures Summary for Tourism, 1995-96, by Accommodations




Non-resort hotels



Resort hotels



Private homes



Winter visitors - non-RV



Winter visitors - RV and trailera






a Winter visitors RV and Trailer data were obtained from Arizona Business, Center for Business Research, College of Business, Arizona State University, Volume 43, No. 8, August 1996, pp. 1–4.

More than 1.1 million visitors spend the night in Tucson hotels. Each one stays an average of five nights and spends an average of $547 in Tucson while on their trip. More than half travel in couples and almost one-quarter are visitors traveling alone. Only 15 percent are traveling with children and even fewer are traveling with business associates, friends or relatives. Tucson visitors are extremely well educated, with 64 percent holding at least a bachelor's degree, and have high incomes, with 57 percent earning more than $60,000 per year.

Forty-four percent of the hotel visitors are from Arizona or other western states (Figure 3). Californians comprise a large share of those visitors and represent 15.8 percent of the total. The southern and central regions of the country each contribute approximately 18 percent of our visitors. Ten percent each are from eastern states and from foreign countries, including Mexico.

Figure 3. Hotel Visitor Expenditures by Origin of Visitor, 1995-96

figure 3

Business is cited as the primary reason for coming to Tucson by 43 percent of hotel visitors, although many are mixing business and leisure (Figure 4). Leisure is the primary objective of 30 percent of hotel guests, and another 14 percent are in Tucson to visit family and friends.

Figure 4. Hotel Visitors' Primary Reason for Visiting Tucson, 1995-96

figure 4

While they are here, hotel visitors enjoy a wide range of activities, but shopping, sightseeing and hiking are the most popular. Eleven percent of our visitors play golf while they are here. The most popular attractions for hotel visitors are the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, San Xavier Mission, Pima Air and Space Museum and Biosphere 2.

More than half of our hotel guests are return visitors, and 13 percent have returned at least five times. Once here, 81 percent say they plan to return. Most visitors generally like the area, the climate, and the friendly people. Few visitors indicate they dislike something about Tucson, but among those who do, traffic congestion and other transportation-related issues (such as street lighting, rude drivers, and inadequate public transportation) are most frequently mentioned. A few visitors also dislike the urban sprawl and appearance of parts of Tucson.

Visitors learn about Tucson primarily from family and friends and through business or conventions. Nine percent learn about Tucson from guidebooks, and 13 percent learn of Tucson from brochures, magazines, newspaper articles, or TV and radio shows and advertisements. Once they are here, visitors strongly prefer to receive travel information through written materials and conversations with knowledgeable locals.

The following seven groups of hotel visitors are analyzed separately: international, resort, golf, over 60 years of age, business, leisure and Gem and Mineral Show visitors. The same visitor may be included in more than one or these groups. Gem and Mineral Show visitor parties spend the most per room night ($578); however, their spending figures include gem and mineral purchases. Aside from Gem and Mineral Show visitors, the highest expenditure per room night is for resort visitor parties ($323) and golfers ($299). Golfers spend twice as much during their stay as resort visitors because they stay more than twice as long. The seven groups enjoy the same attractions as other visitors, but there are some interesting differences. Resort visitors are more likely to visit the Downtown Arts District, and golfers and international visitors are more likely to visit Biosphere 2.

Tucson residents are hosts to approximately 1.4 million visitors in their homes. Private home guests are here an average of 7.5 nights and spend $45 per party night. In all, private home visitors spend $187 million in Tucson. Private home visitors come predominantly from Arizona and other western states (Table 3). Private home visitors are very well educated (59 percent hold bachelor's degrees or above).

Table 3. Origin of Visitor Parties to Private Homes and Hotels, 1995-96


Western states, excl. Arizona


Central states


Southern states




Eastern states




In total, 2.5 million visitors come to Tucson each year and they stay a total of 8.9 million room/party nights (Table 4). Although the numbers of winter visitors are not large, the non-RV and RV winter visitors account for 2.2 million party nights because they stay an average of four or five months. 

Table 4. Summary of Tucson's Overnight Visitors, 1995–96



Visitor Parties

Room or Party Nightsa

Total Visitor Expenditures

Percentage of Total Expenditures







Private homes






Non-RV winter visitors






RV winter visitorsa












a Figures are room nights for hotel visitors and party nights for other overnight visitors.

In addition to the economic impact measured in this study, tourism provides other advantages to the community as well. Local residents enjoy the wide variety of restaurants and recreational facilities that are available in Tucson. Tucson gets exposure through tourism that can result in firm relocations or new businesses created. In addition, firm recruitment and retention is facilitated by the quality of life that tourism helps to provide.