Jack Miller: The three pillars of Scottsdale tourism

What’s good for tourism is good for our residents.

Jack Miller

Jack Miller

That has always been the case. Tourism is one of Scottsdale’s largest industries, generating $4 billion in economic impact annually and directly supporting one in every eight jobs in our community. The money generated by the tourism industry flows through our economy, supporting each and every resident of Scottsdale.

But as travelers’ interests change and competition from other destinations grows fiercer, our community must evolve and flourish to ensure Scottsdale remains a formidable player in the tourism industry and continues to attract visitors for generations to come.

To meet the challenges facing the industry today, the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s board of directors defined a vision that will move Scottsdale’s international tourism brand soundly into the future. This vision is founded on three pillars:

  • The Desert Discovery Center;
  • Transportation and regional connectivity;
  • Downtown activation and connectivity.

The execution of these pillars is crucial to the success of Scottsdale’s tourism industry, and in turn, to the success of Scottsdale’s community and residents.

The first of those pillars, though once a seemingly impossible dream, is today well on its way to becoming a spectacular reality. On Jan. 11, the Scottsdale City Council took a major step toward bringing the long-envisioned Desert Discovery Center to life by approving a contract with Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc. The Sonoran Desert is perhaps Scottsdale’s most majestic asset. Yet market research shows that Palm Springs, Austin and San Diego outrank Scottsdale as destinations revered for natural beauty and outdoor experiences. Although our desert is one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, it is also one of the most misunderstood.

The addition of the DDC at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway, completing a nearly 30-year vision for Scottsdale, will change that. By creating a unique, interactive and educational Sonoran Desert venue, Scottsdale will motivate visitor interest and showcase the desert for exactly what it is — positive, inspiring and beautiful. In this way, the DDC will honor the enormous commitment and investment Scottsdale voters supported years ago when they approved the development and funding of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

In the coming months, Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc., will move this project forward and make certain the DDC becomes not only an amenity that drives visitation to Scottsdale, but also a point of pride for our residents that respects the integrity of the Preserve.

The second pillar, transportation and regional connectivity, is gearing up for its next opportunity as conversations grow around providing solutions to issues travelers and residents face. Tourists coming to Scottsdale want to easily move throughout the community and access our neighboring cities and towns. But Scottsdale lacks regional connectivity and a variety of transportation options. A bike-share program, an improved pedestrian experience, and additional parking will allow visitors and locals alike to explore downtown’s restaurants, businesses and attractions with ease. On a larger scale, high-capacity transit connecting downtown to Tempe or Phoenix not only will give visitors and locals greater access to the region, but also bring Tempe and Phoenix residents into the heart of Scottsdale.

There’s more work to be done on the third and final pillar, downtown activation. Downtown Scottsdale is already a hub for entertainment, dining and shopping. But in order to attract new customers to the area and support local businesses downtown, we need additional energy and vibrancy both day and night. Scottsdale needs more events, better walkability, as well as places for people to gather and new reasons for them to come to the area.

Three key projects on the table will foster this environment: The renovation of the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, the creation of “Arizona Central” at the canal bank, and the development of a community asset at the Loloma site. Though in the early stages, once completed, these projects will become distinct points of interest, provide places for greater activation, build connectivity within the downtown, and improve the perception of downtown as a walkable destination.

Through these three pillars – Desert Discovery Center, transportation, and downtown activation – our community has the opportunity to better itself. Our community has the opportunity to create an even more desirable destination. And our community has the opportunity to help sustain the tourism industry and attract visitors for decades to come.

Editor’s note: Mr. Miller is chairman of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s board of directors and general manager of the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.

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