Call them “snow birds,” “winter visitors” or just “tourists,” Arizona has a massive influx of visitors each year, with most of them enjoying the fair climate of our “winter,” along with a long list of local attractions. They come from many different places, and have different reasons for spending time in Arizona, but each has impact, no matter how long they stay or what they do.  Let’s uncover why these visitors matter to Arizona business and the local economy, who specifically these visitors are, and how to get your marketing message in front of them.

The economic impact

A record-high number of visitors came to Arizona in 2017. Arizona Business Magazine reports that an estimated that 43 million overnight visitors came to Arizona last year, and that these visitors bring $58 million per day ($40,000 per minute!) in spending into our local economy. The economic impact is massive, topping $21 billion annually. Most visitors come during “high season,” which is defined as October through mid-May, and visitation is only expected to grow with the Arizona Office of Tourism’s aggressive advertising plans.

Many people who visit Arizona end up moving here permanently. According to United Van Lines, the moving company that has been tracking annual migration patterns, state by state, since 1977, Arizona is in the top 10 of states attracting new residents, with notably more newcomers compared to people who leave. Further, more people moved to Maricopa county than any other county in the country in 2017, according to the US Census Bureau. The county, which covers Phoenix proper and all surrounding suburbs, grew 1.7%, or 74,000 from 2016-2017, making it the if the fastest-growing county in the nation.

Many of these new movers are following job opportunities, but many also are retirees in search of a great lifestyle. Some visitors, specifically those approaching retirement age, come for the sole purpose of shopping for their retirement home and community. Zion & Zion conducted a phone survey for one of our clients, a major player in the active adult space, interviewing home buyers and gathering information about their sales journey. Nearly 80% of respondents said that they spent time in the Phoenix area, either staying multiple nights at hotels, staying with friends, or even renting a home for months on end, all while they spent their days visiting various communities and shopping home builders for their next home purchase. Talk about huge economic impact and an opportunity for marketers!

Where they come from and who they are

There are many reasons Arizona appeals to visitors, with the most obvious being climate and sunshine. The average high temperature in Phoenix between November and March is 77.6 degrees. Compare that to an average high of 39.8 degrees in Chicago or 36.4 degrees in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, during the same months, and it’s easy to understand the appeal. When other regions are bundling up and driving through snow, Arizonans are enjoying any of our more than 300 golf courses, 15 Cactus League Spring Training teams, The Phoenix Open, NASCAR and other events.

Geographically, key markets for visitors are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and New York. These target cities are responsible for almost 34% of local hotel bookings, and this number is expected to grow in 2019. Western Canada, especially Alberta, draws many visitors, partially thanks to a dozen flights to and from the Phoenix area daily.

Demographically, The Arizona Office of Tourism profiles non-resident, overnight visitors as 57% male/43% female with an average age of 44.6 years old. According to the Arizona Republic’s seasonal visitor study, the majority (85%) are age 65+, with a household income of 75K+, and more than half live in and own single-family homes in their city of origin. Activities enjoyed by Arizona visitors include shopping (33%), visiting landmarks, National or State parks or historic sites (43%) and fine dining (22%).

How to advertise to them

There are several options to reach winter visitors. Any option you chose still needs to follow best practices for media planning, or it will fall short. There is media that visitors might see that residents never will, and vice versa.  The biggest difference in marketing to visitors and vacationers, as opposed to people in their regular daily routines, is the length of time you have opportunity to make an impact, since media consumption habits change when routines and environment change. When you are traveling, your phone generally becomes your primary internet device, hotel TVs maybe only come on in the morning while you’re getting ready to leave for the day and billboards become informative, interesting, and helpful as you navigate a new city.

Contextually-relevant media, content that is focused on helping a traveler navigate their stay, can be a very good option for reaching visitors who are looking for information and advertising as a resource. Print and digital media may cover subjects such as Spring Training, golf, dining, shopping, and activities that will relate to visitors.  Further, you can partner with hotel concierge services for customized, high-end marketing programs that are sure be to impactful with a leisure audience with time to patronize a business that grabs their attention.

Some contextually-relevant media is further-targeted to reach Arizona visitors before they even arrive into town. One option is a print publication produced by the Arizona Republic called the AZ Winter Visitor’s Guide. This publication is mailed to winter visitors’ permanent residences before they arrive in Arizona for their stay, with additional copies going to places like RV parks and retirement community clubhouses. You can begin building campaign frequency before they even cross the state line.

A geographically-focused campaign based on high frequency within a short time period can create effective impact. Things like signage between Spring Training ballparks and major hotels, geo-fenced digital advertising on mobile devices, and zoned cable or zip-code targeted OTT video can combine to provide effective frequency in short periods of time. If Spring Training attendees are your target audience, you can create a geo-fence around the ballpark, and target that user with ads later, be it days or weeks after the event.

One thing to remember, no matter who you are trying to market to, is that it pays to get help from skilled media planners so that you know all the options available (the full selection set) are being considered for their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a media professional’s job to know all the options, whether you want to reach Arizona visitors here on vacation, seniors shopping for a retirement community or some other target market that is important to your business.

The opportunity to communicate with visitors to Arizona is huge, and will undoubtedly continue to grow, with two big Arizona events on the horizon: The Super Bowl in 2023 and the Final Four of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in 2024. Be sure to remember these important consumers in your advertising plans.


Maricopa County is fastest-growing in nation, according to U.S. Census data, The Arizona Republic, March 22, 2018