Town Talk: Oro Valley’s new tourism strategy is off to a strong start

Published on June 26, 2024


When most people think of “tourism,” they envision what the industry calls “leisure travel.” In laymen’s terms, leisure travel is the traditional form of tourism, and it includes things like family vacations, weekend getaways, and road trips. Leisure travel destinations are typically chosen based on personal preference, interests and budget. What folks may not realize is that Oro Valley resorts and limited-service hotels are host to what we refer to as the “business travel” and “sporting event and tournament” markets. In business travel, destinations are usually chosen by a corporation or association, and it involves large group bookings such as a conference. Likewise, sporting event planners seek out venues to host sports-related events such as cycling races or swim meets. The Town recognizes the importance that leisure and business travel and sporting events (group bookings) have on the local economy; however, for our community, group bookings have a larger and more measurable economic impact, so our new group bookings strategy places heavier focus on that piece of the tourism pie. 

Destinations for large group bookings are usually at hotel properties and resorts with a large array of amenities, the capacity for hundreds of guests, and large meeting rooms. Oro Valley’s two resort properties—El Conquistador Tucson, a Hilton Resort (El Conquistador); and Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa (Westward Look)—are outstanding destinations for large group bookings.  

The Town’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Department oversees the Town’s group bookings strategy, and as part of the fiscal year 2024-25 budget preparations, staff began developing strategies that directly support group booking efforts for our two resort properties. Staff's two primary goals regarding this effort included: 1) Reassuring the resorts that the Town would be an active, engaged partner in supporting their unique market segment and revenue goals, and 2) Creating a 90-day strategic plan to ensure the Town was ready to function as the official Destination Marketing Organization for Oro Valley beginning July 1, 2024.  

A Destination Marketing Organization, or DMO, is the governmental unit responsible for tourism promotion and marketing of a destination year-round. You may recall that for many years, Visit Tucson served as Oro Valley’s DMO. Now, as we seek to be more engaged in our community’s tourism strategy, the Town has obtained official DMO designation, which makes us eligible for the following benefits: 

  • Grant funding opportunities from the USA Travel Association and political visitation with key tourism stakeholders on a federal and local level;
  • Collaboration with other destinations, industry stakeholders, and government agencies to share best practices, exchange resources, and address common challenges;
  • Accessing grant funding opportunities with the Arizona Office of Tourism;
  • Co-marketing funding dollars availability via the Arizona Office of Tourism;
  • Facilitating leads from meeting planners to venues via the CVENT platform; and
  • Discounted trade shows for Oro Valley resorts via the DMO.

For group bookings, the Town has already begun identifying and vetting (prospecting) lists of potential association and corporate events seeking destinations, and then providing those leads to our partners at the Hilton El Conquistador, Westward Look and other hotel properties. The goal is that these leads result in signed agreements. To date, that strategy has already yielded more than 600 possible prospects for our resorts and hotels! 

To further develop strategies in support of the resorts and hotels, we have been meeting bi-weekly since March with the general managers of both the Hilton El Conquistador and Westward Look. Staff has also met individually with the general managers to discuss items of a proprietary nature specific to each resort’s goals and needs.  

We are proud to share with the community that in a few short months, the Town has already accomplished the following:  

  • Established the Town of Oro valley as the local Destination Marketing Organization (DMO);
  • Completed acquisition of all the group meeting promotional platforms necessary to support resort meeting and sports bookings; 
  • Defined the strategy to encourage meeting attendees to stay longer before or after a meeting in Oro valley or to incentivize return visits, including the development of five Oro Valley-based itineraries; 
  • Reached out directly to local venues and business stakeholders to provide guidance and ensure business readiness to respond to requests for proposals;
  • Developed a strategy to prospect association and corporate meeting opportunities resulting in more than 600 possible prospects to date;
  • Developed a sports tournament recruitment strategy that has already produced six legitimate leads; 
  • Established a complete budget designed to achieve the group booking strategy goals; and
  • Completed an RFP for a future Leisure Travel study to define opportunities to promote traditional tourism in Oro Valley.

There is still much work to be done and additional strategies to implement in the coming months, but it’s an exciting time for tourism in OV. The Town could not have achieved all of this without the support of Mayor and Council, the strong relationships with our resort, hotel and tourism partners, and a talented and dedicated staff who work tirelessly to bring our new tourism strategy to fruition.  

By Paul Melcher, Director, Community and Economic Development

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