Push for tourism diversity pays off - East Valley Tribune: Business

Push for tourism diversity pays off

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Posted: Saturday, March 27, 2004 6:01 am | Updated: 5:33 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

At the Wyndham Buttes Hotel in Tempe, a small planning committee for Out & Equal, a gay and lesbian organization, is working on arrangements to fill as many as 1,000 room nights in September for the group’s national get-together.

The National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights organization in the country, will stage its annual conference at Phoenix Civic Plaza, spreading about 5,000 conferencegoers and exhibitors from out of town into hotels Valleywide.

The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community is already booking rooms for the Hispanic group organizers, said Kristen Jarnagin, hotel spokeswoman. It will be among more than a dozen multicultural group meetings the East Valley inn has hosted since it opened in October 2002.

For several years, local tourism leaders have been courting multicultural organizations in hopes of landing their meetings. The diverse groups can fill lots of hotel rooms, often in otherwise slow months, said Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau spokesman Doug McKenzie.

"These conventions come 12 months a year. It’s a wonderful boost to the economy," McKenzie said.

The Valleywide tourism agency is hosting 13 meeting planners this week from such diverse organizations as the Japanese American Citizens League, National Black Data Processing Associates and UNITY: Journalists of Color.

Since the visitors bureau launched its multicultural push in 1996, it has booked 120 multicultural meetings, conventions or trade shows, McKenzie said. The out-oftown attendees booked nearly 125,000 room nights in local hotels and left Valley businesses and government co ffers an estimated $116 million richer.

Hoteliers are helping.

"Wyndham has made a huge push for diversity," said Steve Eberhart, general manager of the Wyndham Buttes. That includes pushing for diversity among employees, suppliers and guests, he said.

Landing Out & Equal was a group effort between the Wyndham, Tempe — especially Mayor Neil Giuliano — and the Tempe Convention & Visitors Bureau, Eberhart said.

"We’ve focused on two niches where we think we can make the most impact —gays and lesbians and groups (for people with disabilities)," said Toni Graham, spokeswoman for the Tempe Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"The accessibility of Arizona State University makes it easier for us to embrace that market."

The Sheraton Wild Horse Pa ss Resort has been attracting American Indian tourists since it opened.

"Native Americans want to visit a hotel owned by another tribe," Jarnagin said.

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