Debbie Johnson

Q: What most notably stands out about your leadership style or what is an example of leadership success you can share with our readers?

For me, being an impactful leader is a choice I make every day. We are all pulled in so many different directions, it’s critical to prioritize and balance!  

I adapt my style to the priorities directly in front of me. Some days, I’m in strategy or industry partner meetings planning for future AOT initiatives and programs to continue the success of Arizona’s tourism industry. On other days, our grants team might have 50 grant applications to be reviewed and assessed, so I prepare to buckle down and do that. And on still other days, I might need to jump in and help one of our divisions that is short-staffed because a team member is out with a sick child. I’m always willing to do whatever is needed and never ask my team to do something I’m not willing to do myself.

Approaching each day individually enables me to be versatile in how I help our team and industry succeed, which is my overall leadership goal. 

What impact has COVID-19 or the disruptions of the past 18 months had on you as a leader?

I learned that it’s definitely easier to sustain success and then focus on growth while we were already experiencing all-time record visitation and visitor spending, as we did for several years prior to the pandemic. When Arizona’s tourism industry was effectively grounded in March 2020, we recognized very quickly how severely our economy would be impacted by the loss of tourism. Survival, adapting to changing circumstances and, ultimately, rebuilding required our industry to communicate even more openly and frequently than we had before. As the state’s tourism industry leader, we initiated and led those collaborative efforts and discussions.

The past three years reaffirmed for me the importance of maintaining strong relationships with our industry stakeholders and government leaders. But probably of more value, this time period was a great reminder about the importance of balancing work, family and personal priorities — not just for myself, but also for our team.

What do you feel we can be doing as a business community to empower economic growth here?

Here in Arizona we have a strong and collaborative tourism industry that understands the importance of the roles we all play in Arizona’s overall economic vitality. Tourism consistently delivers positive economic impacts to all 15 Arizona counties, and that’s only possible because businesses, organizations and government entities at multiple levels work together to deliver an amazing experience for visitors. We contribute nearly $1 billion annually to our state’s general fund, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars to our local community governments to maintain key services for our Arizona residents.

All these things are possible only when we recognize that empowering economic growth within Arizona begins with tourism. Virtually every CEO who chooses to move their business to our state is a visitor first, and the more our business community supports tourism, the greater benefit our economy will experience.

Additionally, I encourage all Arizonans to view our state as a vacation destination! We have a great website at VisitArizona.com that helps everyone — residents and visitors — explore our state and discover our amazing geography, food, attractions and communities. It’s a perfect opportunity to support your fellow Arizonans by truly shopping local!  

What is new and notable for your company’s near future that will impact our economy?

Our state welcomed a record 46.8 million visitors in 2019, which was the fourth year in a row of setting an all-time record. In 2021 we recovered to 40.9 million, and we’re on pace to top that in 2022. This confirms that Arizona is a resilient, in-demand travel destination, enjoyed by people all over the world. As industry leaders, it’s imperative that we set the stage for tourism to continue to deliver strong benefits for all Arizonans while also protecting the natural areas and communities that attract so many visitors to our state.  

Our AppreciateAZ sustainable tourism program, launched in 2020, reinforces how simple, individual actions result in positive impacts for our whole state. We achieve this through promoting our 7 AppreciateAZ Principles, such as Plan Ahead & Prepare, Stick to Trails and Be Careful with Fire, which are derived from Leave No Trace and customized specifically for Arizona. 

Along with our partners who share the goal of protecting the great outdoors, we believe this statewide educational approach to responsible tourism will help us reach the most residents and visitors possible. Our long-term goal is that AppreciateAZ continues to drive Arizona going forward, so tourism here is embraced in all communities for the high quality of life it delivers while also prioritizing preserving our amazing natural areas and communities for those who live there and for future visitors to enjoy.  

Name of Leader: Debbie Johnson
Position of Leader: Director
Organization Name: Arizona Office of Tourism
No. of Years with Organization: 7
Main Local Office Address: 1110 W. Washington St., Suite 155, Phoenix AZ 85007
Phone: (602) 364-3717
Website: visitarizona.com
Number of offices in Greater Phoenix: 1
Year Established Locally: N/A
City Nationally Headquartered: N/A


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