Visitors bureau sees diversity as way of boosting tourism - East Valley Tribune: Business

Visitors bureau sees diversity as way of boosting tourism

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Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003 11:18 pm | Updated: 1:30 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials recently brought 1,000 people to the Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix for an annual get-together.

The American Indian Tourism Conference has booked 400 conferencegoers for a four-day session in August at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community.

These are among the 120 ethnic meetings, conventions or trade shows the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau has helped woo to the Valley since developing its Multi-Cultural Affairs Department in 1996. Marc Garcia, managing director of the program, and his staff actively market to ethnic and cultural groups and instruct hoteliers on how to land the ethnic meetings business.

“Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans — if you look at the national demographics, they are the future consumers of America,” Garcia said. In the past two years, Hispanic organizations have booked the most Valley room nights of those four major target markets, and American Indians have booked the most groups, Garcia said.

But over the last seven years, blacks have booked the most room nights, he said. Asian groups are the smallest market but are the fastest-growing, he said.

The ethnic and cultural market presents a major opportunity for increasing tourism around the Valley, he said. Many hotels have jumped on the bandwagon.

“The properties are beginning to understand the importance of these markets and what it can mean to their bottom line,” Garcia said. “But we could use more East Valley hotels.” He said the ethnic organizations require different marketing approaches.

“It takes longer to develop relationships, they have to trust you, and they like to work with their own (ethnic group members),” Garcia said. “They want to know whether you understand their core values.”

The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort is a natural draw for American Indian groups, said Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the inn. The property is immersed in Pima and Maricopa culture — from the art and architecture to the large percentage of employees from the community.

“We are unique, so it’s an easy sell compared to the competition,” Jarnagin said. Besides the upcoming convention of American Indian tourism leaders, the hotel recently hosted the National Congress of American Indians, a gathering of tribes from all over the country, she said.

The Pointe South Mountain Resort is aggressively pursuing multicultural meetings — nationally and internationally, said Andre Fournier, the hotel’s sales and marketing director.

Fournier said the staff is diverse, and he taps ethnic employees to help sell meetings and uses “coaches” from a target organization to help sales representatives understand the needs and interests of the group’s decision makers. And Fournier asks satisfied former guests from an ethnic group to spread the word to other organizations to which they might belong.

“Out approach is careful communications,” Fournier said. “It’s more sensitive and complex than going after Sara Lee, Kraft or the National Association of Home Builders.”

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