Tucson, Arizona

If anyone has ever complained that there is nothing to do in Tucson, the International Festivals and Events Association has just officially proven them wrong. Tucson has been named a World Festival and Event City, one of only nine around the globe.

The application for the award was submitted in July, and Tucson recently received official recognition. The application highlighted 10 major festivals and 11 minor festivals that happen annually in and around the city.

“There is a lot of creativity here, and there are new ideas all the time,” said Dan Gibson, director of communications for Visit Tucson. “Our events reflect the diversity of our community.”

Some of the mentioned festivals included the upcoming Tucson Meet Yourself, All Souls Procession, the Gem and Mineral Show and the Festival of Books. Events like these boost tourism in the area and are crucial to local hotels and businesses, Gibson explained. 

“You have to have things to do for people to want to come to a city,” Gibson said. Half of the people who use Visit Tucson’s website search for things to do, according to Gibson, which leads to a calendar full of festivals and events. 

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is the most famous festival in town and the most economically important. According to Visit Tucson’s 2016-17 Annual Report, “The metro Tucson region reaps $120 million annually in direct spending associated with Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase.”

There are, however, many other festivals of all sizes throughout the city that bring in tourism dollars, engage the community and make Tucson a great place to visit or live.

The Festivals and Events Association of Tucson and Southern Arizona is a member-based trade association for local festivals and events and was responsible for the recent recognition. Donovan Durban is the president of FEATSAZ and said he wanted to do something special during his term.

“IFEA has hosted its conferences at the Marriott Starr Pass for the last three years,” Durban said, noting that this is unprecedented, as before they came to Tucson, the international association had never repeated a city. “I wanted to do something significant so we applied for the IFEA award to add some cachet to Tucson’s reputation.”

The application itself, explained Durban, was not any small feat. It included a 132-page entry document which detailed Tucson’s notable events, as well as a three-minute video about the area.

“It was a pretty substantial undertaking,” Durban said.“We needed to demonstrate, not only the festivals and events, but also that Tucson has the culture and community support for these events, as well as local government interest and support.”

While festivals and events bring economically crucial tourism into the community, they also are key in fostering community pride and engagement, Durban explained.

“It is a point of pride when people know that we have really good events,” he said.“And now that we have been internationally recognized, hopefully that will encourage more locals to come out and support the events.”

The downtown festival Tucson Meet Yourself is the next event to roll through town, set for the weekend of Oct. 13 through Oct. 15. 

“This event is great because it gets people engaged,” Gibson said. “It gets people interested in what is special about our community.”

The next two festivals on the calendar are the All Souls Procession and El Tour de Tucson. All of these events were highlighted within the application’s top 10 list. 

“They are fantastic, well established events,” Durbin said, noting that Tucson Meet Yourself draws between 120,000 to 130,000 people annually, and that Tour de Tucson usually has around 9,000 bike riders who are accompanied by friends and family.

The other cities that won the IFEA award this year were Coffs Harbour, Australia; Des Moines, Iowa; Gold Coast, Australia; Hadong-gun, South Korea; New Taipei City, Taiwan; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Port Macquarie, Australia and Sydney, Australia. Three were repeat awardees, and of the six new cities, only Tucson and Des Moines are in the U.S., making it a truly international affair, according to Durban.

“This puts us in connection with these other cities,” Gibson said. “It gives us this great opportunity to be a part of the hive mind, and we can get inspiration on what we can do better.”

By having the recognition as a world-class festival city, Durbin hopes that festivals will feel the pressure to improve and grow to fit the expectation. 

“This helps the festivals recognize that they are part of a world class city,” Durbin said, “and we need to continue to live up to it and to raise the bar.”

Tirion Morris is a University of Arizona journalism student at Tucson Local Media intern.

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