Instead of using one of Arizona's swank luxury resorts, the Governor's Conference on Tourism will take its own staycation this year: The state's hospitality industry will gather for the annual event online. Condensed to two days on Zoom, the event will also include the annual announcement of Arizona's tourism statistics for the 2019 calendar year.
Those numbers are likely to be bittersweet for an industry that attracted $24.4 billion in travel spending in 2018 but now struggles as the new coronavirus pandemic keeps travelers at home.
Some aspects of travel have rebounded slightly since the pandemic began, but it is nowhere close to normal. The U.S. Travel Association released numbers showing that over the week that included July 4 holiday travel, Arizona saw 38% less travel spending year over year.
And on July 16, American Airlines signaled it may lay off as many as 25,000 employees nationwide. The airline is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's largest, employing more than 9,500 employees and there is no word yet on how much operations in the Valley will be affected.
Lawmakers at the city, state and federal level continue to work on legislation to help those affected by this crisis. In addition, these proposals from Arizona lawmakers are making their way through Congress to address some lesser known issues in the state's travel industry.
Allowing more tourism from Mexico
Both U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., have proposed legislation for a pilot program to allow Mexican nationals with a valid Border Crossing Card to travel anywhere in Arizona without filing additional forms and paying additional fees.
The current program limits travel to 25-75 miles inside the state, depending on where the individual crosses the border. Such a program would allow tourism to places like Phoenix, Sedona and the Grand Canyon, currently off limits without additional paperwork.
Mexico is the largest source of international tourists to Arizona followed by Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.
“Especially in this time when our tourism and recreation industries have taken a catastrophic hit, we need to think ahead and be creative about how we will help those sectors rebuild and reach new audiences. This pilot program is a first step in doing so," Stanton said in an emailed press release.
Maintaining funding for airports
Airport funding depends largely on the number of people traveling through an airport, so the deep drop in the number of people flying has been devastating. It has affected how much restaurant and retail revenue they get, as well as the fees they collect from airlines and rental cars.
The number of passengers also helps determine how much money Phoenix Sky Harbor International and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airports get from the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Deb Fisher, R-Neb., introduced the Airport Infrastructure Readiness Act of 2020 to temporarily recalculate that funding formula. Currently, the FAA makes distributions based on the number of passengers in a calendar year.
“Safeguarding critical airport funding while we fight the coronavirus outbreak protects Arizona jobs and ensures Arizona’s airports remain economic engines supporting our state’s recovery,” Sinema said in an emailed statement.
In addition, the Contract Tower Program pays for towers at airports like Goodyear Airport that are staffed by private companies, not the FAA. If passenger levels drop, as they have by more than 50% at Goodyear this year, a study is required to justify the need for the tower. That can be costly for smaller airports so the bill would waive that requirement this year.
Tax credits for vacations
McSally’s TRIP Act proposal made big news a few weeks ago with its plan to provide $4,000 in tax credits (plus $500 per child) for families to take vacations.
“The American TRIP Act is about getting more than 180,000 Arizonans and over 9 million Americans who are employed by the tourism and hospitality industries back to work,” McSally said in a press release.
Though the proposal received some criticism from those who believe it subsidizes travel for wealthy Americans, McSally's office says the bill has overall been well received and is still on the table.
A spokeswoman said McSally is working with leadership and the Trump Administration to have the TRIP Act included in the next COVID-19 relief package.