Chief Executive Officer
Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau
Rachel Sacco wants more elite travelers. While Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief caught up with the long-serving boss of the Scottsdale CVB for a coffee at the world-famous Phoenician, it’s not unusual to find her out in the community, including visiting the FBOs at Scottsdale Airport for a first hand look for new ways to get high-spending visitors to the Valley of the Sun.
ET: Can you give us a quick overview of Scottsdale from a visitor perspective?
Rachel Sacco: We have 300 plus days of sunshine, over 600 restaurants, over 200 golf courses in the area, including over 30 just in Scottsdale, with many of them championship level and quite famous.
ET: What about some of the events that would be of interest to elite travelers?
Rachel Sacco: Tomorrow we start the Phoenix Open played here in Scottsdale. In a couple weeks we have the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. We are in the middle of our 22nd Annual Celebration of Fine Art, we have the Arizona Sun Circuit Quarter Horse Show, we have the Parada del Sol Rodeo, and we just finished the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction. And in a few weeks we start baseball spring training; that is always a big draw. This year there will also be an exhibit on the Science of Baseball.
ET: How is luxury travel doing here?
Rachel Sacco: During the car auctions we saw that luxury is back. We had one customer come all the way from China, so we think there is probably a great appeal for what we offer beyond our traditional markets. There is high interest in China for example with Arabian horses and we have a premier event. Baseball is popular in China too.
ET: What type of feedback do you get when you talk to visitors?
Rachel Sacco: During the Fiesta Bowl I was talking to one of our very wealthy customers. He was telling me he loves the white space on his calendar that he blocks off when he comes to Scottsdale. There is so much to do, and he said, “When I leave, I feel so much better.” Isn’t that what luxury is all about?
ET: What’s new in Scottsdale?
Rachel Sacco: We’re putting the final touches on The McDowell-Sonoran Preserve. It might be what New Yorkers would consider Central Park, however at 33,000 square acres it’s about the size of San Francisco. Next to the Rain Forest, the Sonoran Desert has the most diverse ecosystem in the World. The Preserve enables people to explore the desert. There will be a Visitor Center, but right now there are trails you can go hiking, biking, walking, running. There will be three new luxury developments surrounding the area. Lyle Anderson is doing a high-end retreat that will cater to Board Meetings and select groups. His son is developing a luxury dude ranch and the investors who own Little Nell (in Aspen) are developing a luxury desert and western experience resort. There will also be luxury real estate development.
ET: What’s the timing for these new properties?
Rachel Sacco: We host the Super Bowl again in 2015 so I expect it will be ready in time for that. It will be our third time, and I think that says quite a bit about what we have to offer here.
ET: Scottsdale is one of the country’s busiest private jet airports?
Rachel Sacco: Last week we had a Global Express fly into Scottsdale from Milan. The customers stayed here for a few days and made some other stops in the region and then were able to fly nonstop back to Milan because of our runway enhancements. Scottsdale airport in 2011 had over 140,000 operations, an increase of about 9,000 operations. It generates more than $140 million per year in economic impact so we understand the importance of private aviation. We have customs and we have two FBOs with Landmark Aviation and Scottsdale Air Center, plus another dozen charter operators.
ET: Are you seeing any trends in visitors?
Rachel Sacco: Corporate meetings are back. And we find the CEO or owner comes to Scottsdale for an event, then they say, “This is a great place for my company meeting or board meeting,” then they end up coming back with the family. For elite travelers who are looking for a great venue for meetings or multi-generational groups or family gatherings, we are easy by private jet but are also very accessible by commercial flights, so if part of the group is not flying privately it is easy for them to get here. In 2009, Sky Harbor was the ninth busiest in the U.S. and ranked 17th in the World. There is nonstop service from 85 domestic destinations and international cities.
ET: Are there any updates on the hotel front?
Rachel Sacco: The Fairmont is building the biggest ballroom in Scottsdale. The Hyatt has been doing updates and renovations. The Phoenician right here has spent close to $100 million including renovating suites. At The Four Seasons they have a be a wrangler or cowboy for a day program and then you come back to the hotel to be pampered.
ET: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Rachel Sacco: Ninety-one percent of the people who enquire about Scottsdale and receive our brochure come to Scottsdale or have a trip booked within a year. I think that says a lot. I’ve been doing this 25 years and I always think I have the best job in the World, promoting Scottsdale!