COTTONWOOD - A new tourism survey reveals that visitors to the Verde Valley are increasingly wealthier, older and traveling in larger groups.
The 2014-15 Verde Valley Visitor Survey, conducted by Northern Arizona University, sampled 2,718 people who had visited the communities of Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Jerome and Sedona/Village of Oak Creek.
Information concerning demographics, points of interest and details of stay were gathered and compared with an earlier 2006-7 survey.
The results showed average per-party per-day spending increased from $423 in 2007 to $654 in 2014, with average household income rising from $72,310 in 2007 to $109,276 in 2014.
Also increasing was the average age of visitors, from 52.8 years in 2007 to 54.6 in 2014.
In addition, visitors to the Verde Valley appear to be traveling in larger groups, from 2.6 persons in 2007 to 3.1 persons in 2014.
What are the trends in Verde Valley tourism?
According to the report, "communities throughout the Verde Valley have improved product offerings and visitor experiences, invigorated historic downtown areas, created a successful Arizona wine industry, added mountain biking/marathon events, and expanded rafting and tubing on the Verde River - the last of Arizona's wild and free-flowing rivers. All of these additions have attracted old and new visitors alike."
Camp Verde attractions
The most-visited tourist attraction in Camp Verde was Montezuma Castle/Wells National Monument, accounting for nearly half of all Camp Verde visitors.
In second was the Out of Africa wildlife park, visited by more than one third of visitors, followed by downtown Camp Verde, visited by one-quarter of visitors.
Other destinations visited by Camp Verde tourists included Fort Verde State Park (17 percent), Cliff Castle Casino (16 percent) and the Verde Valley Archeology Center (10 percent).
It should come as no surprise that the most-popular attraction in historic Clarkdale was the Verde Canyon Railroad, with over half of visitors reporting they had taken the train ride.
Second place went to Tuzigoot National Monument, visited by two of every five visitors, while one in five visitors toured the Copper Art Museum.
Other destinations reported as being visited included the Clarkdale Arts and Entertainment District (13 percent) and Verde River access points (10 percent).
A decade-long revival of Historic Old Town Cottonwood appears to be paying dividends. Two-thirds of all Cottonwood visitors reported Old Town as their destination of choice.
Next in popularity was the Blazin' M Ranch, with one in every four Cottonwood tourists visiting the entertainment venue, followed by Dead Horse Ranch State Park, visited by one in every five tourists.
Travelers to the area also visited the Old Town Center for the Arts (19 percent) and the Old Jail Trail (9 percent).
Jerome was topped only by Sedona/Village of Oak Creek as the most popular Verde Valley tourist destination.
More than two-thirds of visitors to this historic mining town named art galleries and shops as their primary reason for visiting Jerome.
In addition, more than half of the visitors had taken-part in ghost town tours and explored the history of Jerome.
Nearly one-third of visitors visited Jerome State Historic Park, while one-fourth of visitors said they toured wineries and tasting rooms.
Music and special events attracted the remaining visitors, reported as 7 percent.
Sedona/Village of Oak Creek attractions
Topping the list as the most popular Verde Valley community for tourism was the Sedona/Village of Oak Creek area.
Once tourists arrived in the area, the most popular destination was tied between Uptown Sedona and the Highway 179 Red Rock Scenic Byway, with both being visited by 59 percent of Sedona-bound tourists.
Tourism in the Village of Oak Creek benefited from improvements to Highway 179, as well as visitors to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Over half of all tourists in Sedona traveled south to the chapel, which is five miles from the Village of Oak Creek.
Other popular Sedona-area destinations were the Tlaquepaque/Hillside shopping areas (41 percent), the Sedona Airport Scenic Overlook (39 percent) and the area's two state parks, Red Rock and Slide Rock (36 percent).
Who are these visitors?
The Verde Valley tourism survey revealed not only where people are going to, but also where people are coming from.
One in 12 visitors lived in a foreign country, with two-thirds from Canada and the rest living in one of two dozen foreign countries.
Almost two-thirds of visitors were from out‐of‐state, with 49 states represented in the survey.
The biggest draw came from the states of California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, and Texas.
Four in 10 visitors said their decision to visit was influenced by friends or family, and the same number used the Internet as their primary source for trip planning.
How important is tourism to the Verde Valley?
Results from the survey confirmed just how vital tourism is to the economic well-being of the Verde Valley.
According to the report, tourism accounted for $669 million in direct visitor spending in the Verde Valley last year. Federal, state and local taxes collected totaled $104 million.
This included food, lodging, transportation, shopping and recreation expenses.
Three-fourths of visitors named the Verde Valley as their primary destination. More than half were repeat visitors, with an average stay of three-nights.
"Since 2007, the communities have improved and expanded its many offerings from mountain biking to wine tasting and everything in between," said Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau President/CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff.
"A lot has changed since 2007, and shedding light on the average visitor to the region will give economic partners a better look at how to continue to offer incomparable and unparalleled experiences," Wesslhoff said.