Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Oro Valley Ends "Visit Tucson" Destination Marketing Partnership

Town will do its own destination marketing
The town has been using Visit Tucson [see panel] as its destination marketing company. According to Town Manager Jeff Wilkins speaking at last week’s town council meeting this arrangement is over. He announced that the town will handle its own destination marketing. 

“Oro Valley is starting to transition and manage its own tourism strategy. We've started to work toward special events, especially in the sporting event area.”  He noted that the town will “…continue to purchase advertising space in certain publications, and also work on additional marketing [with Visit Tucson]…they would still communicate with us when they needed facilities and such. But we did express that we were parting ways as far as the agreement.”

Town has been using Visit Tucson for many years...value always questioned
The town has been funding Visit Tucson and its predecessor, MTCVB, for years. Residents have consistently questioned its value. Marana and Sahuarita have never funded it. The organization never demonstrated that it returned significant return for the investment to Oro Valley. The amount paid increased substantially when the town annexed Westward Look in 2021.  This annexation brought with it a Pima County agreement with Visit Tucson for destination marketing at Westward Look. The agreement entailed a cost of $250,000 solely for Westward Look. The cost was determined based on a percentage of bed tax revenue. The total funding in the town’s budget for Visit Tucson this year is $410,000.

It is unclear if Visit Tucson directly benefited Oro Valley
The last council update from Visit Tucson on its contribution to the town was in February of 2022. At that time, they claimed that they:
  • Delivered 26,500 room nights to Oro Valley hotels
  • Hotel occupancy at 55%...and revenues up about 16%
  • and they were were actively marketing the town
Visit Tucson has not updated the council since then.

Our guess is that it was a close to "break even" deal for the town
What we do know regarding Visit Tucson’s direct benefits to Oro Valley is based on their 2023 Annual Report. The only direct benefit noted in that report is Visit Tucson’s claim that it brought the US Artistic Swimming’s US Junior Senior Championship to the Oro Valley Aquatic Center in April of 2023; and that the organization was so impressed by the facility, they planned to return for the US Master Championships last October. 

Regarding the value of that to the town and other Visit Tucson events, our estimate indicates that the total revenue brought to the town by Visit Tucson barely exceeded the funds paid by the town to Visit Tucson. Specifically, it amounted to $556,000 compared to Visit Tucson's $410,000 fee. [See "About our estimate" at the conclusion of this article]

Decision appears to have been abrupt..updated
This past December, we asked Mayor Winfield when the next update to council from Visit Tucson would occur. He told us that it would occur around this time. Early last month at the council’s strategy study session, Vice Mayor Barrett reminded all that a full analysis of Visit Tucson’s contribution to the town was in order according to the council’s “…strategic leadership plan [iteCommunity and Economic Development staff completed the analysis and created a PowerPoint presentation for Council that summarizes the key findings of that analysis. Feel free to submit a records request for that presentation, which is entitled: Visit Tucson Annual Agreement Assessment.m] 1.4.1: A complete a comprehensive analysis of the return on investment and benefits derived from the town's partnership with Visit Tucson and bring options to council regarding the town's tourism and attraction plans.” 

That analysis and those option were never presented to Council in a public session. However, the Community and Economic Development staff completed the analysis and created a PowerPoint presentation for Council that summarizes the key findings of that analysis. The town tells us that it was discussed with each council member during their monthly briefings from the town manager. We have requested that document.

So why the change?
So we do not know why the town made the decision. Nor do we know what will be the future plans. We have ask both the town and Council Member Nicolson, the liaison to Visit Tucson, for an explanation. We'll let you know what we learn.
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About our estimate
In their annual report for 2023, Visit Tucson claimed to have generated $23 in revenue for every dollar invested system-wide. This translated to an average of $9.43 million generated for Oro Valley. Assuming that all of this revenue was returned in bed tax and sales taxes, totaling 5.9%, these additional revenues would amount to $556,000, slightly surpassing the $410,000 the town pays Visit Tucson.
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