The Phoenician, Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale, Arizona's Phoenician, one of many Southwest U.S. resorts where room rates plummet as temperatures rise. (Photo: Josh Hallett)

Some Like It Hot

“It’s true: summer in Scottsdale is triple-digit, fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk, stick-your-head-in-the-freezer hot? Who’d want to meet here?”

That sounds like a warning complaint about the legendary summery heat in Phoenix’s tony sister city, but it’s actually a promotional spiel from Scottsdale’s tourism agency. Traditionally, locales where summer weather is staggeringly hot downplay the reality of temperatures that routinely exceed 100 degrees, but Scottsdale is flaunting it. Last year it cooked up, so to speak, a summer promotional website, itsthathot.com, to promote summer activities and discount hotel and other rates for vacation travelers, and for event and meeting planners.

How hot is it? Consider that the Phoenix-Scottsdale area last year had 128 days when the temperature exceeded 100 degrees. On July 24, it soared to 116. Yet record heat isn’t driving tourists away. Just the opposite. In Arizona—where the state’s Office of Tourism also launched a hot-weather promotional campaign—summer tourism hit a 10-year high last year. Statewide, hotel revenue last July rose 14.2 percent from the same month in 2017.

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Incidentally, if you’re thinking about a summertime business or leisure trip to anywhere in the sweltering Southwest this year, you’ve undoubtedly read an alarming news story or two claiming that it’s sometimes so hot in Phoenix, for example, that airplanes can’t take off. My knowledge of aerodynamics is as thin as Sonoran Desert air in July, but a few flight restrictions on the hottest days have affected some regional jets with performance-chart data geared to a maximum of 117 degrees. Guideline maximums for larger airplanes can range up to 127 degrees. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Phoenix (so far at least) was 122 degrees on June 26, 1990. So there’s not much to worry about in this regard.

With the arrival of summer 2019, the effect of climate change on temperature will be at least as big a topic in travel as it was last summer, when even southern Europe was staggered by heat waves that sent temperatures soaring over 100 degrees in some areas. 

They’re not used to that kind of heat in Europe. In the Southwestern United States, on the other hand, scalding summers are nothing new; nor are they as bothersome as they are in Europe given that, as they say in Arizona, it’s a dry heat. I live in Tucson and, trust me, a sunny 110-degree day with 10 percent relative humidity here is far more pleasant than a 90-degree day with 80 percent humidity in the New York area, my previous home base.

For real heat, take Death Valley National Park in California, site of the highest air temperature ever reliably recorded on earth: 134 degrees on July 10, 1913 at Furnace Creek. Last July, August, and September were actually the busiest months of the year, as foreign “heat tourism” visitors—Germans and Brits especially—seek to experience the extremes of the American West. They weren’t disappointed. Temperatures on four days last July reached 127 degrees, and there were 21 days in spring and summer when the highs exceeded 119. The foreign tourists “travel to experience something different than they have at home,” a park spokeswoman, Abigail Wines, told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

About 140 miles east across the desert from Furnace Creek, Las Vegas is also an increasingly popular travel destination in summer. As the thermometer hit 115 degrees last July 25 (at 9 percent humidity), hotels were reporting occupancy rates over 90 percent, and the convention business was booming. The Microsoft Ready and Inspire convention for that company’s worldwide networks of technology partners and vendors is expected to draw 40,000 visitors this July.

Back in Scottsdale, meanwhile, the tourism marketers eagerly promote the fact that hotel and resort prices plunge once the thermometer skyrockets. For example, the cheapest room at the swanky Phoenician resort was $1,152 for a night in late February but only $257 for the second week of July. In Las Vegas, by comparison, the lowest price for a room at the Venetian in late February was $453 in late February and $224 in the second week in July. (The Scottsdale figures include taxes and fees.) Air conditioning is included, but that bottle of spring water on the desk will cost you extra. You can bet on it. 

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