This Southwestern Destination Is America's First Autism Certified City

Mesa, Arizona, was designated America's first Autism Certified City. Here's what that means for visitors.

Pair of photos showing children hiking in the Superstition Mountains
Hiking in the Superstition Mountains, just outside of Mesa. Photo:

Courtesy of Visit Mesa

Mesa, Arizona, a city of over 500,000 residents located next to Phoenix, wants to make it clear it’s a place that welcomes everyone.

In 2019, the destination, an honoree in Travel + Leisure's 2023 Global Vision Awards Accessibility category, became the nation’s first-ever Autism Certified City, a designation bestowed by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). And it got there thanks to the personal dedication of Marc Garcia, president and CEO of Visit Mesa. 

As Garcia shared in a news release in 2019, the idea was sparked after his six-year-old son’s autism diagnosis and a few less-than-desirable personal travel experiences he wanted to rectify for himself and others. The idea of earning the unique certification quickly gained traction with local leaders, including Mayor John Giles, who noted at the time, "We commend Marc Garcia and the staff at Visit Mesa for their vision."

Over the course of a year, Visit Mesa encouraged and worked with local businesses to partake in autism training programs so they could better assist all traveler needs. In total, more than 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities employees completed the training, along with nearly 4,000 community members representing 60 businesses and organizations. Visit Mesa explained on its website, "Certification illustrates to those families affected by ASD that they can trust Mesa as a dedicated tourism destination serving individuals with autism. Certification is achieved when at least 80 percent of guest-facing staff is trained and certified in the field of autism." 

This list of certified spots includes several hotels, including Delta Hotels by Marriott, Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West, and Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa

To help visitors make the most of their stay, Visit Mesa put together an in-depth website, which includes sensory guides, a list of Certified Autism Centers, dining options, attractions, and more, as well as a free digital passport so visitors can check off every destination they’ve seen. That digital passport also comes in handy as guests will receive a little prize after checking into five locations on the list. 

A man and child look at a dinosaur skeleton at the Arizona Museum of Natural History
The Arizona Museum of Natural History is one of the autism-certified attractions in the city of Mesa.

Courtesy of Visit Mesa

"Visit Mesa is helping inspire and encourage other destinations and organizations to take on this journey, and we will always advocate for the benefits of an inclusion-first approach to visitor marketing," Michelle Streeter, chief marketing and communications officer for Visit Mesa, shared with T+L. "This experience has had such positive impacts on the health of our entire community, a city that fully embraced the process of certification and continues to dedicate time and resources to this movement."

Learn more about the destination and all the certified businesses you can visit at

The Travel + Leisure Global Vision Awards aim to identify and honor companies, individuals, destinations, and organizations taking strides to develop more sustainable and responsible travel products, practices, and experiences. Not only are they demonstrating thought leadership and creative problem-solving, they are taking actionable, quantifiable steps to protect communities and environments around the world. What's more, they are inspiring their industry colleagues and travelers to do their part.

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