Monday, February 18, 2008

Tourism and mining

How much tourism is generated by mining and mineral activities in Arizona and particularly southern Arizona?

That question came up repeatedly last week as geologists and mineral collectors from around the world participated in the Tucson gem and mineral shows and all the associated professional, hobby, and social activities.

I heard a number of discussions about the news of a study commissioned by opponents of the Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson. That study speculated that if the mine caused a 1% drop in tourism in the region, the economy would lose $30 million, or more than gained from the copper mine.

As the State Geologist, friends and colleagues in the profession peppered me with questions about public support of mining and how much tourism around here is generated by people attending the gem shows (the convention bureau estimates $100 million), amateur rock hounds, and people touring active mines, old mining camps, and ghost towns, among similar activities.

At a reception the other night, some geologists, supportive of mining, asked very pointed questions as to whether the gem shows might be at risk if the Tucson area was to become viewed as openly hostile to the miners who mine the gems and minerals and the collectors who treasure them. Another noted that a copper mine is prominently in view to everyone flying in and out of the Tucson airport and if that isn't turning away tourists, why should a mine 20 miles away in the mountains knock out the equivalent of 30% of the 55,000 gem show attendees (more than 16,000 people) not coming to Arizona at all or buying anything during the two weeks of the shows.

But does gem and mineral dealer or buyer really care about any of this, as long as prices are good, sales are up, and the freeway construction doesn't interfere too badly with business?

Deliberately provocative questions. Are there any studies that show why the Tucson gem, mineral, and fossil shows have grown to the be the world's largest? Where was the world center before and why did it lose out to us? What do we have to do to keep it so vibrant and even grow more?

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