Tourism leaders leery of 1070 at the Supreme Court

Posted: Updated:
The Saguaro in Scottsdale was named one of the "Top 121 New Hotels in the World." By Jennifer Thomas The Saguaro in Scottsdale was named one of the "Top 121 New Hotels in the World." By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Arizona's hotel and lodging industry is rebounding, but slowly, industry analysts announced in Phoenix. The Valley Hotel and Resort Association met Wednesday at the Convention Center.

Hotels reported mixed numbers for January and February, but an overall strong March, propelled by spring breaks and the Cactus League baseball games.

Many hotel managers say the recession combined with the controversy over Arizona's immigration law kept visitors away the last few years. Rock-bottom room pricing helped keep the industry alive.

"We all went through that position when we were just trying to put heads in beds," said Robert Hayward of Warnick & Co, who led the event.

Hayward said Arizona's image has improved in the minds of travelers, and he hopes the Supreme Court taking up SB1070 next week won't rekindle the controversy.

"The concern is how the Supreme Court opens that issue back up and how that will impact the impression [of Arizona] on a national level going forward," Hayward told the crowd.

"It was very bad, we lost a lot of groups and the real impact is still happening [from 1070]," echoed Doug Heaton, who manages Scottsdale's Hilton and Doubletree hotels. "We were taken off lists of future meetings. They just weren't considering us during that time."

Industry analysts say new hotels are not building in the Valley, but existing hotels are renovating.

Investors bought the Theodore Hotel (formerly the Mondrian) on Drinkwater Boulevard in Scottsdale, and spent six months renovating it. It is now reopened as The Saguaro.

"You can't buy a property like this in a normal economic time," said manager Alan Klein. "We rehabbed all the guest rooms and all the public spaces."

Klein said the Saguaro's owners saw an opportunity and the potential for future growth as the economy continues to pick up, even if it is slow.

"I think tourism in Arizona is on the upswing, but it's certainly slower here than in other major markets," Klein said.

He said the Saguaro is drawing from the Midwest and East Coast during the winter months, and hopes to draw more regional visitors through the summer.

The hotel's rehab is paying off. All 194 rooms have been booked this week. Plus, Conde Nast put the Saguaro on its new cover, naming it one of the "Top 121 New Hotels in the World."