By Tommy Acosta
Sedona News (August 6, 2021) Bending to the will of the Sedona City Council to cull tourism in Sedona, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau has agreed to suspend their destination marketing effort for at least one year, modifying the language on its website visitsedona.com from encouraging visitors to come to Sedona, to educating tourists on how to enjoy the beauty of Sedona’s red rocks and forests, responsibly.
The council voted unanimously on July 28 to approve a $2.1 million budget for the chamber, sans the $250,000 the chamber could have used for destination marketing if the city had not disapproved. This money has been set aside in case it is needed for an unforeseen emergency.
While much attention has been paid to the City Council and the public’s desire to curb the proliferation of tourism in Sedona, there has been sparse coverage on how shelving destination marketing would hurt local businesses that depend on destination marketing for their livelihood.
One business owner was livid over the curbing of destination marketing, claiming that doing so would damage the fragile recovery they are now experiencing post Covid19. He also felt he and other businesses were left out of the process, even though some business owners did protest at the council meeting against the pause, to no avail.
“What they are trying to do, will kill our town,” said Steakhouse89 owner Dieter Lehmann. “Why would they do that to those of us that rely on tourism to stay in business? And why have those of us in the business community been omitted from the discussions? Why were we not included in the decision making process? We are finally getting back on our feet from the pandemic and now they want to do this to us at the worst time.”
Sound Bites Grill owner Michele Moore, a former member of the chamber’s tourism bureau, placed the congestion problem firmly on the shoulders of the un-checked growth of Air B&Bs in the community.
“As a former board member of the chamber of commerce I have listened to this city funding the chamber for tourism arguments over the years,” she said. “My opinion is the Air B and Bs are one of the main reason for the congestion. I own four business and a half the people I ask where are you staying … they say an Air B& B. Its’s a losing proposition for Sedona with no housing for residents and too many vacation rentals increasing our tourism substantially.”
Businesswoman Nena Barlow, owner of Barlow Adventures in Sedona, believes the pause in destination marketing does have some positive aspects, in that it would give the chamber an opportunity to push good stewardship of Sedona’s attributes for visitors and locals alike.
“While I would have voted to approve the marketing budget, it would be with the understanding that our marketing messages are aimed to attract visitors who will respect our community and trails, and deter those who don’t,” she said. “People are coming to Sedona whether we advertise or not. We need to steer the ship. We can take this year to set a good strong course for steering that ship. That means the Chamber and its members, and the leadership of the City of Sedona defining our destination so that everyone on board is clear on the course before we cast off next year.””
The effort to discourage tourists from coming to Sedona stems from council and community members upset with the increased traffic, the trampling of hiking trails, disrespect of Sedona’s sacred sites, overcrowding, the proliferation of Air B&Bs and the un-anticipated influx of people from Phoenix and other cities escaping to Sedona for needed R&R from pandemic weariness.
City Council members believe that one of the main reasons people are lured to Sedona is because of the destination marketing efforts of the chamber through its powerful and expansive website that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and maintain.
In response to these concerns, the chamber created a Destination Resiliency Plan FY22 to ensure the city’s tourism-based economy remains vibrant while focusing attention on mitigating impacts from the past year’s dramatic and unanticipated uptick in visitation.
Although much of the blame for the congestion and other deleterious tourist-generated impacts has been placed upon the chamber and its website, the chamber is not the only cyber entity encouraging tourists to come to Sedona.
Typing “Sedona” in a Google search engine will bring up dozens and dozens of other sites dedicated to funneling people to Red Rock Country.
The city cannot regulate or deter any of these other websites.
Further, there are Sedona-centric magazines that are shipped to hotels and resorts in Phoenix that are picked up by travelers, who make it a point to visit Sedona while staying there.
According to statistics provided by the City of Sedona and Yavapai College, as noted in the Chambers Destination Resiliency Plan FY22, tourism is a $1 billion industry in Sedona. Visitor’s generate 77 percent of the city’s sales and bed tax revenue equaling $25 million in local tax dollars. Tourism supports more than 10,000 jobs in Sedona and $240 million in wages.
After one year the chamber’s agreement to refrain from destination marketing will be re-considered.
Sedona Mayor Sandy Moriarty feels that the city and chamber working together to enhance the quality of life in Sedona and alleviate some of the congestion problems, is a good thing that will benefit the community greatly.
“I’m happy that the city and the chamber have been able to come to an understanding on the funding of the services they provide, including a pause on destination marketing, so that the focus is on managing the visitors who come to Sedona,” she said. “Many tourism destinations experienced an expanded visitor base in the last year, as people escaped the dense environment of big cities for rural areas which provide more opportunity to spread out. I believe we agree that the messaging now must be on keeping Sedona the most beautiful place on earth, with the emphasis on the importance of environmental responsibility and protection, such as the Leave No Trace campaign, options for voluntourism and general sustainability practices.”