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Students share tourism ideas with city chiefs

May 16, 2008

Jeremy Brooks is among the first to say it.

The two-letter word eases out of the junior’s lips and bounces around the packed classroom, gaining momentum until it’s repeated hundreds of times by a bevy of students.

Many of them don’t even seem to realize the importance of the word – “we” – as they discuss unique ways to increase tourism in five rural Arizona communities. But Tim Tyrrell’s smile keeps widening as his students sound more and more like longtime residents of the small towns they hadn’t known existed before taking his Tourism Planning course.

“We want to bring in the tourism aspect but keep our small-town feeling,” says Brooks, standing before a huge photo of the city of Coolidge’s only dine-in restaurant.

Brooks was among 50 students of the School of Community Resources and Development who spoke to community leaders April 23 to share their ideas for attracting visitors to the Arizona communities of Chino Valley, Gila Bend, Jerome, Coolidge and Superior.

This marked the first time in the 10-year history of the course that students have presented their improvement strategies directly to representatives from the cities and towns.

It’s a new way the College of Public Programs is putting theory into practice, helping students at the Downtown Phoenix campus apply what they learn to directly affect communities.

Students formed five teams, ventured into communities to assess the area’s resources, and spoke with local officials, residents and visitors.

They came up with ideas for sustainable tourism development that minimizes the negative impacts of tourism and takes full advantage of its benefits. The Arizona Office of Tourism co-sponsored the project.

Student suggestions for increasing tourism ranged from adding an outdoor civic marketplace in Chino Valley where residents frequently would gather, to making the inactive mines of Jerome safe enough to open for tours.

Team members who focused on Gila Bend proposed a plan they say would double tourism in the city, which has less than 2,000 residents.

They suggested building a “desert oasis attraction” with a hummingbird facility, a small café with outdoor seating, and trails featuring native minerals and geology.

“We see this as a way to celebrate the natural area of Gila Bend without depleting its assets,” says junior Austin Beber.

Another idea included adding a gateway in Jerome similar to the Cincinnati Gateway, allowing talented folks from the town’s artist colony to play a role in its design. Residents could vote on their favorite artist’s renditions to help in providing a unique identity for their community.

Melanie Oliver, Superior’s interim town manager, says she was particularly impressed with a team’s idea of marketing the town in an “Old West” theme, complete with an attraction that would make tourists feel they were on a Western movie set.

“I think they did a wonderful job with their presentation,” Oliver says.

Corey Schubert,
(602) 496-0406
College of Public Programs