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Arizona Tourism

Are horror stories the best way to promote Arizona tourism?

E. J. Montini  Jul 18, 2010

Perhaps Gov. Jan Brewer misread the invitation and thought she was giving a speech last week before the Governor's Conference on Terrorism . . . not tourism.

Or maybe she knew exactly to whom she was speaking and believes that terrorizing people is the best way to promote our state as a tourist destination. After all, it is proving to be the best way to get elected.

Ever since Brewer signed SB 1070, she and U.S. Sen. John McCain have given countless interviews on national TV in which they portray Arizona as a horrifying amalgam of Mogadishu, Kabul and Dante's fifth circle of Hell.

The border is "out of control," shrieks Brewer. Phoenix is second to Mexico City for kidnappings, shouts McCain. There are beheaded corpses and body parts in the desert, Brewer cries. The state is overrun by smuggling cartels and the majority of those crossing the border are drug mules, wails the governor.

These ridiculous political rants range from wild exaggeration to complete myth, but fearmongering (along with a promise to fight the federal government and crack down on illegal immigration) has put both Brewer and McCain way ahead in the polls.

It also has led to boycotts that threaten Arizona's more traditional tourism industry, the one that emphasizes the state's beauty, tranquility and safety, and which generates (or used to) billions in revenue.

According to the Arizona Tourism Alliance, the scare tactics and boycotts may already have cost the state a couple of billion dollars and caused roughly 30,000 folks to lose their jobs.

Still, the governor told the 400 tourist-industry executives gathered last week for a convention in Tucson, "Despite the issue of boycotts or negative publicity, the tourism industry and business community must stay committed to the long-term brand that is uniquely Arizona."

In fact, she said that she has a group working on a plan to lure people back to our state.

"I'm happy to report the wheels are in motion," Brewer said.

One skeptical tourist-industry executive complained about a call she'd received from a potential visitor who wanted to know if it was safe to drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to Sedona on Interstate 17.

I'm sure the governor's panel could turn such fear and negativity into positive tourist attractions for Arizona's "unique brand."

Perhaps an industrious tour operator could set up armored caravans to shuttle visitors from the airport to their resort destinations.

Maybe even throw in free camouflage clothing and "loaner" sniper rifles for mom and dad - in case of kidnappers - and pairs of high-resolution binoculars for the kids.

Along with a promise that if little Billie spots body parts in the desert he wins a bobblehead.

Minus the head, naturally.

Another clever tourist company could appeal to the illegal-immigration fervor being spread by Brewer and stage mock "hunts" for border crossers. Something along the lines of the gunfight re-enactments at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.

The company might even employ some of those laid-off hotel and resort workers to portray border crossers and work out a deal in which the person who catches the highest number of phony migrants would be named an honorary deputy for Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Heck, I'm thinking I might get into the tourist business myself. I could start a company in which eager tourists, for a reasonable fee, would be enjoined in the words of Sen. McCain to "complete the danged fence."

Are horror stories the best way to promote Arizona tourism?
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer / Image via


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