Plan envisions Mesa as a $1B tourist destination | News

7 Min Read

Visit Mesa’s board of directors have adopted the organization’s first 10-year master plan for tourism to  transform the city into a “major visitor destination” with direct spending by tourists exceeding $1 billion a year.

The plan, which aims to increase tourist spending from last year’s $710 million total, describes challenges and opportunities for meeting these goals with a mix of guiding principles and more specific objectives –  such as establishing Mesa as a leading sports tourism and outdoor recreation capital.

Mesa would benefit from better transportation between the “visitor industry clusters,” or hubs of activity, spread across Mesa’s 133 square miles, according to the plan.

Visit Mesa Board member Dennis Kavanaugh, who co-chaired the committee that created the plan, said having the long-range road map will help Visit Mesa work with local, state and federal government entities that tend to work on long timelines.

Master tourism plans have increasingly become best practice in the destination marketing field, he added.

He said this year is a good time for Visit Mesa to roll out a plan since the city is updating its own 2050 master plan.

Kavanaugh also will help to implement the plan as he is slated to become president of the Visit Mesa Board of Directors next summer – one of the reasons, he said, he was tapped to lead the master plan development.

Alison Brooks, Visit Mesa’s vice president of destination experience, said the plan’s “big vision”  will be used to spin off the agency’s shorter-term strategic and business plans.

Those smaller plans will contain more of the “nuts and bolts” needed to grow visits and improve visitor experience, she said.

They will include more quantifiable goals, such as hosting 1.3 million overnight visitors and adding five new non-stop destinations to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport by 2026 – two targets from the current three-year strategic plan.

Visit Mesa, its consultant MMGY Global and local stakeholders worked more than a year on the 10-year plan.

Brooks said over 1,000 people participated, with Visit Mesa hosting focus groups, resident town halls, dozens of on-on-one interviews and an online survey in English and Spanish with 640 responses.

Kavanaugh said the biggest challenge was probably getting residents to give their time and attention to providing feedback.

“The council members who served on our planning committee, and city staff, recommended that we hold more town halls than initially recommended by the consultants and really push, push, push on the surveys,” he said.

Kavanaugh said the committee also made an effort to include stakeholders who benefit from tourism but are not directly connected with the hospitality industry, like health care, retail and supermarkets. 

Brooks and Kavanaugh said that many of the ideas and goals in the new master plan are long-standing desires for Visit Mesa and city leaders.

They include as seeing a large, standalone resort built in Mesa and developing downtown into a creative and cultural innovation district.

But some concepts contained in the 10-year plan came to the attention of leadership primarily through the community engagement process.

One idea was extending light rail to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. 

Kavanaugh said he is an advocate for public transit, but extending the rail to the airport “was not on my bucket list,” explaining that “politically, (light rail) seems to be a really heavy lift.”

“I think policymakers should be aware that that (idea) came from the public,” he said.

In another unexpected finding, community members said recreation access to the Salt River and Tonto National Forest is lacking.

“The mountains, desert and Salt River ecosystem (are) staggeringly beautiful but there are limited options for visitors and locals to experience the outdoor majesty,” the plan states. “People want to spend money in Mesa’s great outdoors but they’re challenged about how to spend it.”

Kavanaugh said comments about improving access to the water came through clearly during outreach, and he thinks it’s important to work on this area because the river is a big draw for Mesa.

The plan recommends that stakeholders engage with local representatives and policy makers and build partnerships with environmental organizations, small business owners and tribal leadership to discuss how to develop recreation.

Kavanaugh said it’s important to proceed “in a way that is respectful of the environment there, respectful of our tribal partners on the other side of the river.”

Brooks said the visitor economy is important to our community and it’s important for residents to know about it.”

According to Visit Mesa’s annual report, the city hosted 1.1 million overnight visitors who booked 132,000 room nights last fiscal year, generating $710 million in direct spending.

Now that Mesa Forward is set, Brooks said she is planning to take the new plan on a “world tour” and get the right eyes on the plan.

Already “there’s a lot of eyes being opened through this plan,” she said.

The bottom line for Visit Mesa is to introduce more people to the community.

“Regardless of whether people are thinking about a place to live or go to school or open a business, nobody does anything without that first initial trip,” Brooks said, adding:

“Our goal is to get people here to do that initial trip and to grow and become a place where our residents get all these benefits of us growing in a very thoughtful way.”  

Vivrr Local-Bridge

2023-11-28 16:41:50 , DuckDuckGo

Share this Article
Leave a comment