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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Focus on Tucsonans, not tourists”

    In the desert, a well-placed oasis can literally save your life. For years, local businesses have regarded our steady stream of tourists as the Southwest’s own economic oasis.

    Lately, though, that oasis has all but dried up. Despite the Tucson municipal government’s repeated efforts to increase tourism by sprucing up the downtown area, there is nothing the city can do about the state of the national economy. The Arizona Republic reported Sunday that Tucson International Airport has been hit harder by rising gas prices and the weak economy than almost any other airport in the country.

    About 20 percent of the airline seats it once touted in its 2007 year-in-review report are lost or empty. More than one fourth of its daily departures are gone and the number of cities it once flew to and from has sunk by 40 percent.

    The situation has gotten so bad that Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, which is losing only 1 of 10 flights, is using Tucson International Airport as an example of how things could be worse. Since most Tucson visitors come by way of airplane, the tourism indicators don’t look good.

    Although officials can point all they want to spiffy new restaurants and light rails that might perhaps attract people one day, it is na’ve to expect this problem to go away on its own. Even the upcoming holidays don’t guarantee a tourism spike. With economists warning that the nation is tottering on the brink of financial ruin, until people can afford to fly, it is more reasonable to conclude that travelers will just stay at home.

    So what does that mean for us? What advice can we give to all the suffering Tucson businesses and developers in limbo?

    As Robert De Niro would put it, “”Forget about it.”” If the tourism isn’t good, perhaps we ought to focus on the people who are already here.

    This is easy to say, but harder to act on. We have already gotten in over our heads with numerous Rio Nuevo development projects that may never take shape, and it may well be too late to just drop everything.

    But on an individual level, small businesses can begin thinking locally by creating deals and promotions that will attract Tucsonans, not just out-of-towners. We can set our sights on the local market, and emphasize traditional Tucson values, like environmentally friendly products. At the UA, we can stop subsidizing expensive tourist draws like the Science Center or the light rail.

    Most importantly, Tucson businesses can start taking advantage of the fact that they have a major university smack in the center of town. We have a major Air Force base in the city, so a number of Tucson businesses offer military discounts. Why don’t more of them offer student discounts?

    The answer to the tourism “”problem”” is to stop seeing it as a problem at all. Rather, let’s treat it as an opportunity to reexamine our priorities. If Tucson doesn’t take care of its own citizens, it is doubtful anyone else will.

    Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat staff and written by one of its members. They are Andi Berlin, Justyn Dillingham, Lauren LePage, Lance Madden and Nick Seibel.

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