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A Tale of 3 Cities

From Associated Press

In the old days, you could almost hear tourism promoters in San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas dissing the competition when foreign tourists inquired about a side trip to one of the cities.

Phoenix? You don’t want to go to Phoenix. Too hot. They closed the airport a couple of summers back when the mercury hit 122 degrees. That’s 50 degrees Celsius to Europeans, after all.

Las Vegas? Nothing to do in Sin City but gamble.

San Diego? You might get soaked by Shamu at Sea World and catch a cold.

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These days, however, the three cities are downright complimentary about each other. Their convention and visitors bureaus, once fierce rivals for tourist dollars, have joined marketing forces to encourage vacationing foreigners to see the sights in all three cities.

The Tri-City Marketing Alliance, formed last summer, seeks to attract an additional 100,000 foreign visitors to each city by 2000.

The strategy: Promote Las Vegas as the world’s entertainment capital, Phoenix as a golf haven and gateway to the Grand Canyon, and San Diego as a sunny oceanside playground.

The majestic Grand Canyon--considered a must-see by many foreigners--graces the cover of brochures that emphasize that the three cities lie only a few hundred miles apart in a “golden triangle” easily accessible by a cheap plane ticket or by car.

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“With European travelers visiting the U.S. now averaging a nine- or 10-day stay and three or four different destinations, this alliance of three highly desirable cities in close proximity makes all the sense in the world,” said Ron Harris, a Scottsdale, Ariz., travel consultant who works for the alliance.

Overseas travelers are no strangers to the Western trio. Las Vegas attracted about 6 million foreigners last year, Phoenix 1.8 million and San Diego 700,000.

Promoters tout each city’s diverse attractions as having wide appeal for foreign tourists.

“The top three things an international visitor wants is, No. 1, natural scenic beauty. That doesn’t get any better than the Phoenix area,” said Char Beltran, director of travel industry sales for the Phoenix & Valley of the Sun Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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“No. 2 is entertainment. That doesn’t get any better than Las Vegas. Third, they want the beach, and a beautiful beach is what San Diego has to offer. And all three cities are known as fairly safe, with friendly people,” she said.

Phoenix approached Las Vegas about forming a regional tourism alliance after British Airways began nonstop service to Phoenix last year, with continuing service to San Diego. All three cities are served by international airlines.

Las Vegas, with 100,000-plus hotel rooms to fill--and more on the way--jumped at the idea.

“The visitor expenditures per [overseas traveler] on average are higher than the domestic visitor. The economic benefits are really tremendous,” Harris said. “They stay longer and spend more.”

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San Diego was more than happy to ride Las Vegas’ long coattails in the international tourism market.

“Any time you can attach your name to an icon like Las Vegas, it’s pretty special,” said Steve Pelzer, a spokesman for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And at the same time, we provide 70 miles of beautiful, pure beach and the relaxed Southern California lifestyle.”

The alliance, which has a $500,000 budget for its initial three-year life, is concentrating on the European market.

A delegation from the three convention bureaus recently made a sales pitch to major tour companies in Munich, Frankfurt and London. Officials said about a dozen operators agreed to market vacations to Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix. The alliance plans to take its pitch to Asia and Latin America in the future. And it has drawn interest from other U.S. cities, including Long Beach and Anaheim.

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Beltran said getting more foreign tourists who visit Phoenix in the summer to golf, shop and visit scenic sites such as the Grand Canyon will help fill hotels and resorts and complement the state’s $1-billion winter tourism industry.

Following the demise of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, a government promotional agency, cities and regions must make a greater effort to attract foreign tourists, alliance officials said.

“With [USTTA] going away, there’s really no one entity that can carry a banner for the United States,” Harris said. “You’re seeing more regional associations developing.

“You can’t go it alone; it’s just too cost-prohibitive.”

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