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Gem Show travelers bring economic boom to Tucson

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Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat

Leah Martinez (center left) examines an amethyst sphere in the Village Originals, Inc. at the Kino Gem Show during the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show on Saturday, Feb. 4. Martinez, a Tucson native, attends the show almost every year and made a wind chime out of a unique collection of rocks from the show as a Mother's Day gift last year.

The annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase is once again in full swing, bringing with it the largest financial event in the Tucson area. Buyers, sellers and tourists from all over the world come to Tucson for the show.

The gem show is a two week-long event where vendors display and trade gems, minerals and fossils at dozens of locations in Tucson. Many of the traders are international, flocking to Tucson with the hope of finding new precious minerals for their stock.

The City of Tucson expects to bring out 55,000 people. Of these 55,000, there will be tourists from 25 different countries, making this event a massive economic impact for Tucson.

In 2014, the Gem Show brought $120 million in direct spending, Tucson-based market research firm FMR Associates estimated. That’s a 20 percent increase from the $100 million estimate FMR released in 2007 and a 56 percent increase from the $76 million in 2000.

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The lodging industry has easily seen the greatest effect of the event, with $30 million being pumped into the various hotels and such throughout Tucson, according to the 2014 FMR report. This doesn’t come as a surprise seeing as 50 percent of owners, 54 percent of buyers and 84 percent of exhibitors come from outside of Tucson.

The surprising result is that, although spending has increased, the number of exhibits decreased from 49 to 40 from 2007 to 2014. This year the event plans to have just over 40 exhibits open.

Most of the spending in 2014 came from buyers at the event, roughly $70 million. Owners and exhibitors made up the other $50 million.

“Business is always good for me during the gem show,” said Patricia Sparks, owner of the Mon Ami Bed and Breakfast. “I have repeat customers who have been coming and staying for years, both buyers and exhibitors.”

Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat

Jesse Swibold displays a stainless steel wind spinner at the i-Spin booth at the Kino Gem Show during the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show on Saturday, Feb. 4. This year marks the second year California-based company i-Spin has attended the gem show.


Tourists also need gas, food and other necessities that will add to spending in the Tucson economy.

The city received $10.4 million in sales, bed and rental taxes during the two week period in 2014. 

The long-term impacts are the number of tourists who return at later dates simply to visit. Many attendees elect to extend their stay and travel around the area, reported regional business magazine BizTUCSON. 

The tourism industry uses the term “brand ambassadors” to refer to people who talk about places to travel, such as the people who spread the word that Tucson and the Southwest are good places to vacation. 

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Tucson city government isn’t the only institution with a vested interest in the gem show. The UA, with a nationally competitive mining program, holds an educational authority on minerals.

The UA owns and funds the nonprofit UA Mineral Museum, which is partially funded by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, the organization that hosted the first gem show.

“For anybody that has an appreciation for things that are natural, it’s really an opportunity to see some of the best mineral, fossils [and] crystals in the world,” said Brad Ross, soon-to-be assistant director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources. 

Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat

Carole Lundstrom of Black Hills, South Dakota, at the Kino Gem Show during the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show on Saturday, Feb. 4. Lundstrom was shopping for inventory for her gift shop.

Ross was an exhibitor at the Tucson gem show for a number of years and a member of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society. Ross even wrote an academic paper on the gem show as part of his dissertation. He explained the importance of the show to the UA and the Mineral Museum.

“It gives Tucson the reputation of being the mineral location,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of credibility that comes with that.”

Credibility is a currency in itself with regards to academics and tourism. The gem show growing to the world-renowned event that it is today gives the university and the City of Tucson the reputation it needs to attract recurring visitors.

The main attractions for the show include a 100-ounce gold crystal; The Alma Rose, five large rhodochrosite chunks (also known as Inca Rose) stuck in a slate of quartz and other minerals; and the fossils of three baby dinosaurs found in the Hell Creek Formation, spanning from Montana into the Dakotas and Wyoming.


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