Tourism in Tucson rebounds after pandemic


Marison Bilagody

Visitors of the 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil & Gem Show walk through a venue tent on Jan. 29. Tucson is experiencing a rebound in its tourism as of late resulting in crowds such as these. 

Kiara Adams

The city of Tucson can seem like a small town but it has a vibrant community. And while there are many locals who love this city, there are also many people who flock into town for annual events like the Tucson Gem Show, the Tucson Rodeo and the Tucson Jazz Festival.

Each of these events have their unique characteristics and qualities that bring in people from all over to the city of Tucson to explore and enjoy what the events have to offer to their guests.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on a lot of these annual events. There was not a single event that was not affected by the pandemic. Some events had the chance to rebound in 2022, but this year will be the year to expect the events to return to their full glory.

One event making a full comeback after the pandemic is the Tucson Gem Show, which according to is “the largest, oldest, and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.” The 2021 Gem Show was unfortunately canceled, but in 2022 it was able to come back amid the surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Now in 2023, the Gem Show is able to have a full event, even featuring some new sellers. Aeora Rocks is one of the new sellers that will get the chance to sell at the Tucson Gem Show.

Managing Partner of Aeora Rocks, Carolyn Cary, expressed her excitement about being able to be a part of the Gem Show for this year.

“I’ve been in the business for about 15 years and about one year ago I decided it was time for me to branch out on my own,” Cary said. “I reached out to someone very reputable in India and started my own place and I love it. I love meeting people, I love the stones, just all of it.”

Since branching out on her own, Cary has been able to grow her business using social media and doing live sales on the Facebook page for Aeora Rocks. Despite her success using social media, Cary is aware that being in the Gem Show can potentially give her business a large boost.

“This is basically gonna be my introduction to the wholesale and retail crowd,” Cary said. “I’ve been open for a while, but the gem show is my first opportunity to put myself out in front of a whole bunch of people and hopefully build my customer base and keep my business going.”

The Tucson Gem show will take place between Jan. 28 – Feb. 12.

Another annual Tucson event that brings in people from all over is the Tucson Rodeo, which was also impacted by the pandemic. Tucson Rodeo Committee Chairman, Jose Calderon, shared just exactly how the pandemic affected the rodeo.

“It affected us like everyone else,” Calderon said. “The regulations and rules that we needed to do to sterilize everything would have been impossible. We couldn’t do it and being on city property, we had to oblige by their guidelines. [2021] was the only year that we couldn’t put it on and we were able to resume the following year.”

This year will be the 98th year of the rodeo and rodeo organizers like to keep it as traditional and as true to their roots as possible.

“Our rodeo is very traditional and it’s been like that for the last 97 years. We keep it that way because we like to keep everything as true west as possible,” Calderon said.

Calderon also shared that the Tucson Rodeo is one of the top 25 rodeos in the country and brings in $15 million to the city of Tucson. Part of what generates this money is the timing of the Tucson Rodeo.

The Tucson Rodeo is usually held in February, after the National Final Rodeo that takes place in December. The Tucson Rodeo is one of the rodeos that starts the season back up for the year, so many cowboys and cowgirls have to attend to get the points necessary to continue on in the rodeo season.

On top of that, another reason organizers like to hold the rodeo in February is to keep people who come to Tucson in the winter here longer.

“A large majority of our crowds are people who are from out of town,” Calderon said. “I’ve looked at the demographic and we have people from Mexico, Canada and all 50 states who come out.”

Another way that the rodeo remained so successful after the pandemic is because not only is it a treasured community event, but it is also an outdoor event that helped people be comfortable attending in the first place.

“The great thing about the Tucson Rodeo is that we sell out, we’re expected to almost every year,” Calderon said. “It’s a great outdoor event. After the pandemic people were hungry to get out and do something, and being outside people felt more comfortable being in an environment where it’s outdoors.”

Calderon added that this year, the rodeo country group Lonestar will be performing Saturday, Feb. 18. This will be the first concert in 20 years at the Tucson Rodeo, so it is an event that organizers are looking forward to.

The Tucson Rodeo will be held Feb. 18-26, 2023.

Another event that has already taken place but still generates plenty of foot traffic is the Tucson Jazz Festival. The Jazz Festival was held from Jan. 13-22.

Executive Director of the festival, Khris Dodge, shared how the festival was affected by the pandemic.

“In 2021, we had to cancel the festival so that obviously put a hit on our yearly celebration. In 2022, we were able to put on the festival, but it was a little muted due to the rising surge of Omicron,” Dodge said.

Dodge said this year the festival seemed to be back to normal and thriving better than it had in previous years. He also was able to share what he was looking forward to this year for the Jazz Festival following the pandemic.

“I look forward to the experiences and meeting artists and watching how audiences react and interact with the artists. Both on stage and in between performances as well,” Dodge said. “There’s a certain amount of magic in jazz and improvisation that makes each performance unique and seeing that happen in real-time is very special.”

Dodge said the festival brings in crowds of all ages, from high school students up to older patrons, music lovers, first-time festival goers, people from all over the country and even a few Canadians. The festival purposely tries to program itself in a way to have a wide reach and find different audiences.

Each of these events brings different groups of people to the city of Tucson. With each event, there are new memories to be made and new experiences to be had here in the city.

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