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Chamber hoping to revive tourism council

Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Sam Ribakoff

When friends and family, guest and tourists, come to Graham County, what do you suggest they see and do? On your day off, what do you see and do in the county?

The Graham County Chamber of Commerce wants to find 15 people to serve on the Gila Valley Tourism Council and give their answers to those question, and help the chamber advertise the county, its businesses and natural wonders, to both tourists and locals.

Anybody 18 years of age and older can apply to be a member on the volunteer council, as long as they’re a resident of either Graham or Greenlee County, they have an opinion on how to improve the tourism industry in the county and they love the Gila Valley, Van Bryce, the executive director of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce said.

Bryce said the council is a way for the chamber to get community feedback on their plans to promote tourism in the county and make sure it makes sense. The council members will be expected to offer their opinion on what the county has to offer to both tourists and locals and ensure the chamber spends its $36,000 tourism and marketing budget in “the best way possible, and wisely.”

“We’re looking for a restoration of the tourism industry and collaboration,” Bryce said, “When people visit us, we want to show up in the best way possible.”

Bryce described the council as one of the first steps in creating a “culture of communication” among all the different players in the local tourism industry sphere and with the larger community.

“They’ll represent the community to us,” Bryce said of the future council.

Inspiration to start the council came when Bryce found detailed notes and minutes of past volunteer tourism council meetings where studies of the local lodging industry was presented that included a suggestion that people with extra rooms in their house start “pseudo beds and breakfasts,” Bryce said.

“They were imagining Airbnb before it existed,” Bryce said, “I think that was cool.”

Bryce couldn’t identify what year the minutes of the past meetings went back to, but he said the council stopped meeting in 2008 during the Great Recession.

The first things the council will start discussing in their first meeting on August 11 is a welcome guide the chamber is hoping to publish for tourists. They’ll also discuss drafting a strategic plan for tourism that Bryce said he has been working on for two years, which includes his idea to film short trailers highlighting county landmarks, like Mount Graham and Roper Lake State Park, that would play before movies in theaters in Safford.

“All the things we want to do are the things we want our residents to love. We’re not going to do something residents totally hate,” Bryce said, “Residents have to drive this. It’s their money we’re spending.”

The deadline to apply for a volunteer position on the council is Saturday, July 17. You can apply to the council by visiting the Graham County Chamber of Commerce’s website at You can also call the Gila Valley Welcome Center at (602)833-0258 and either ask to be emailed a copy of the application, or apply over the phone.

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