KINGMAN - Josh Noble is always looking for ways to tap deeper into the record-breaking 40.7 million visitors who came to the Grand Canyon state in 2014 and their estimated $20.9 billion in travel spending.
Noble, director of Kingman's Tourism Development Commission, said Mohave County is rich in Old West history and attracts both domestic and international visitors who want to explore our culture, which includes mining towns, the railroad and Route 66.
It's hard to gauge the economic impact of tourism on Kingman because motel occupancy rates are unreliable, Noble said. But he knows certain events contribute to the numbers.
Participation events such as the Route 66 Fun Run, Laughlin River Run, softball and baseball tournaments, BMX and motorsports competitions bring people for at least a day.
"I think the Route 66 Festival has similar potential," Noble said. "As to its impact in 2014, I just don't know."
The festival committee conducted surveys that estimated attendance of 8,000 over three days, but did not separate out-of-towners from local residents.
Feedback from Kingman motel owners and managers suggested that most of the festival's attendance was local.
"The Route 66 Festival last year was not very impressive, but can be tried again with some more marketing and awareness among the local area," said Sunil Patel, who manages six hotels in Kingman for Advance Management and Investment.
About 9 percent of 1,800 Kingman visitors surveyed in 2010-2011 by Kingman Visitor Center, Northern Arizona University Hospitality Research Center and Arizona Office of Tourism indicated that they attended a special event during their stay.
Travelers come for other reasons such as scenic drives (67 percent), Route 66 experience (68 percent) and visiting national parks (61 percent). The study estimated 2.3 million visitors, $165 in direct travel expenditures and 2,134 full-time jobs.
Top attractions for visitors to Kingman were downtown (37 percent), Route 66 Museum (33 percent), Locomotive Park (16 percent) and Mohave Museum of History and Arts (8 percent).
Top attractions outside of Kingman were Las Vegas (60 percent), Grand Canyon National Park (59 percent) and Hoover Dam (54 percent).
Kingman Powerhouse Museum and Visitors Center tracks entries in its guestbook and has more than 3,400 entries from January through June, Noble said. Most travelers are visiting area attractions such as the Grand Canyon (25 percent), Route 66 (32 percent), and museums (12 percent).
Patel said business is good in his upscale hotels such as SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express. Occupancy is high and revenue is increasing over last year, he said.
Occupancy and revenue are down about 3 percent to 5 percent on a couple of his lower-end hotels.
"We do have some flow of tourists visiting the Grand Canyon and most of them are off the road in transit travelers," Patel said. "Overall the trend seems positive and future business seems encouraging as, in anticipation, there are new construction of hotels lined up."
La Quinta Inn has started construction of a new hotel behind the Stockton Hill Road McDonald's, and more hotels such as Home2 Suites by Hilton are coming.
Advance Management and Investment plans to build a Marriott brand Fairfield Inn in 2016, Patel said.
Mohave County hotels and motels had 64.8 percent occupancy in first quarter 2015 with average daily rate of $72.47, up 8 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively, from a year ago, according to a statewide lodging performance report from Arizona Office of Tourism.
Patel believes those numbers are fairly accurate. Hotels such as Marriott, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn are running higher occupancy and ADR, but the numbers are for all Mohave County motels, he noted.
Kingman has about 1,700 rooms in more than 30 hotels and motels, most of them in the budget and moderate price range.
Jim Hinckley, retained as a consultant for Route 66 Association of Kingman, said period motels on the historic highway are becoming "endangered" properties, and those types of motels are "priceless."
El Travatore, built in the 1930s, and Hilltop, built in the 1950s, are classic examples of those motels in Kingman, he said.
"They're crucial to the Route 66 renaissance," Hinckley said.
Ramada Inn renovated its Canyon 66 Restaurant and Lounge last year with the goal of marketing the hotel as a full-fledged Route 66 resort. The owners are reaching out to car clubs in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles for weekend getaways and putting together Route 66 travel packages for snowbirds, Hinckley said.
The Arizona Office of Tourism released statistics in June that showed a 4.1 percent increase in overnight visitors in 2014 and 5.4 percent increase in visitor spending.
Highlights of the research conducted by Dean Runyan Associates include:
171,500 industry jobs generated by direct travel spending, up 3.8 percent over 2013.
$5.9 billion in employment earnings generated by direct travel spending, up 6.3 percent over 2013.
$2.8 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue generated by direct travel spending, up 2.8 percent over 2013.
Tax revenue generated by travel and tourism represents a $1,150 tax break for every Arizona household.
"These are incredible results for Arizona and validates the importance of this industry to our state," AOT director Sherry Henry said. "Tourism impacts all 15 counties in Arizona by generating thousands of jobs, billions in earnings and billions in taxes for our citizens."
Specific to Mohave County, destination spending was estimated at $497.8 million in 2014, plus $85.1 million in other travel spending for a total of $582.9 million. That's up slightly from $579.4 million in 2013.
Visitors spent $63.5 million on accommodations; $140.5 million on food service; $47 million at food stores; $87.6 million on transportation and gasoline; $85.4 million on arts, entertainment and recreation; and $73.8 million on retail sales.
The state tourism study showed employment of 5,870 in Mohave County generated by travel spending, including 3,280 in accommodations and food services; 1,520 in arts, entertainment and recreation; 610 in retail; and 450 in other travel jobs.
Kingman is in a unique position to capitalize on the growing popularity of "heritage tourism" in which people travel for cultural, historical and natural experiences, Hinckley said.
The American Southwest and Route 66 are top destinations from that perspective, providing myriad possibilities for marketing Kingman.
Special events such as the Route 66 Fun Run and Chillin' on Beale have tremendous potential if managed and marketed properly, Hinckley said. There's talk about making Chillin' on Beale a weekly event, rather than monthly.
For years, the rallying cry for tourism development has been to place "heads in beds," but that should not be the primary focus, Hinckley said.
"Tourism is a poor foundation for a community to build upon," he said. "In the process of making the city a destination, we make it a place people want to live, to open businesses and to raise families. That should be our focus."
The ice cream parlor on Andy Devine Avenue, the renovated House of Hops (Kingman Club), Black Bridge Brewery and restaurants on Beale Street are all components in developing a solid foundation for transforming Kingman into a destination, he added.
Kingman will capture a larger share of tourists with each new business that opens downtown, and with each new mural and cleanup project, Hinckley said.
It's going to require cooperation between civic organizations, business owners and city officials.
"Stay the course," he advised. "Look what has transpired in just the last 18 months - the Route 66 International Festival, the initiatives launched by the Sandbox committee, reorganization of the Route 66 Association of Kingman, the city of Kingman facilitating cleanup of properties and refurbishment of buildings along the Route 66 corridor, and establishment of the world's only electric vehicle museum are just a few of the dramatic developments that immediately come to mind."