Yuma County broke records for tourism spending in 2014 and the Yuma Visitors Bureau won another award from the state tourism office, it was announced this week at the Governor's Conference on Tourism in Scottsdale.

The county took in $664.7 million in travel spending last year, according to the state, a 2.6 percent increase over last year and the biggest take ever, and $60 million more than what was spent during 2010, the lowest total since the recession began in 2008.

Linda Morgan, executive director of the visitors bureau, said "seeing the record spending numbers in black and white just confirmed what we've been feeling in our bones -- that tourism in Yuma is alive and well and getting better every year."

The annual analysis, done by Portland, Ore-based firm Dean Runyan Associates, said travel spending was up 5.4 percent statewide, with Cochise County showing a huge 22.7 year-over-year jump, followed by Santa Cruz at 6.6 percent and Maricopa at 6.3 percent.

Yuma County's northern neighbor and former northern half La Paz County, which includes Parker and Quartzsite, fared the worst with a 1.4 percent drop from 2013 to 2014, to $142 million.

Morgan said the numbers the bureau has for the first half of 2015 look promising as well. "What we already know is we are having a fantastic year, so I actually expect 2015 to be a great year. We're seeing all the numbers are up," she said.

Yuma's hotel occupancy is up 6.2 percent, for the first quarter of 2014, the average daily rate is up 4.1 percent, and revenue per available room is up 10.5 percent. The city of Yuma's hospitality tax revenue, from hotels, restaurants and bars is up more than 6 percent for the fiscal year so far, from July 2014 through April of 2015.

Tourism is directly responsible for 5,920 jobs within the county, the state report said. "In human terms, travel spending here in 2014 supported nearly 6,000 jobs that in turn help support Yuma families, including our neighbors and friends," Morgan added.

Looking at specific market sectors, Yuma County travelers spent the most money, $132 million, on retail sales, with food service coming in second at $120 million, according to the statewide analysis' breakdown. Arts, entertainment and recreation was in third place, at $118.6 million.

The overall importance of food service to the overall economy is growing, according to the analysis, out-earning the arts, entertainment and recreation sector for the first time since at least 2006.

YVB released the numbers at its annual breakfast meeting Friday, where its fifth state award in as many years was also touted, and another one given out.

The bureau and the University of Arizona both received the Governor's Tourism Award for Co-operative Marketing for their efforts to promote Lettuce Days, which last spring moved from downtown Yuma to the UA's research farm on the west side of town.

Kurt Nolte, director of the UA's Yuma Agricultural Center, received the visitors bureau's E.G.R.E.T Award, for "Expression of Gratitude in Recognition of Excellence in Tourism." It is presented annually to someone who has contributed to the success of tourism in the area, and grew out of the same partnership as the state award.

"Yuma is lucky to have someone as knowledgeable as Kurt to help share its story, and we could not have achieved the success we have without his help and that of his hard-working U.A. team," Morgan said in giving the award.

Other Yuma County figures in the "Arizona Travel Impact" report include:

• $604 million of the total $664.7 million came from "destination spending," with the rest falling under "other travel," including residents' ground and air transportation to other cities, travel arrangement services such as reservation services, and convention and trade shows.

• Traveler spending generates $19.5 million in local taxes and $26.7 million in state taxes.

• More money is spent here by day travelers, $258 million, than by those who stay in hotels and motels, $136.2 million. They are followed by those who stay in a private home ($90.7 million), at a campground ($69.7 million) and at a vacation home ($49.7 million).

• 2,860 county jobs generated by travel spending are in the accommodations and food services sector, 2,000 in arts, entertainment and recreation, 970 in retail (including gas sales), 90 in "other travel" and 10 in visitor air transportation. The number has gone down slightly since 2006 in retail, arts/entertainment/recreation,and "other travel," while accommodations and food service is up slightly.

Tourism is now recognized as one of the "big three" industries in the area alongside agriculture and military spending, but County Administrator Robert Pickels said it's only emerged as such in the last 20 years or so.

"It just started emerging around the time I got here. It's been interesting to see -- I don't want to say a dependence -- but a much higher reliance on those tourism dollars now than there had been 20-some years ago, and it's hard to imagine now, not having that. I think many businesses have thrived on that, and the creating of the Yuma Palms, I think is the result of that stimulated interactivity," he said.

Blake Herzog can be contacted at (928) 539-6856 or bherzog@yumasun.com.

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