California pulled in $71.5 billion tourist dollars, while Arizona managed "only" $10.5 billion, six times less, and ranked 17 in the nation, according to the Travel Industry Association of America's annual report. The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau has already used the report as an occasion to call for more taxpayer money to promote the state.
But take a step back and the numbers fall into place. Yes, California made six times the money, but California also has six times the population. The important thing is how big each person's slice of the pie is, not the size of the pie itself. If we break the statistics down, California made $1,991 per resident on tourism and Arizona made $1,828, or a modest $163 difference. Tourist spending in Arizona also increased 6 percent from 2002 to 2003, the second highest percentage increase in the nation.
Should the state spend more taxpayer money trying to attract more tourists? Even the Arizona Office of Tourism, which consistently asks for more subsidies, admits that other states' advantages lie in "large privately funded, man-made attractions." In other words, something more taxpayer money can't buy.
One thing the state could do to attract more tourists is to create a tax-oasis by lowering hotel, airport and rental car tax rates. Before leaving Sky Harbor, visitors have to pay an 8.8 percent rental car sales tax, a $2.50 surcharge and a 10 percent airport concession fee. That's a fine how-do-you-do.
Arizona may not have Oceanside views, but we can still offer a tempting oasis for visiting guests.