By [Concerned Sedona Resident]
(April 18, 2016)
This is the second in a series of three follow-up articles to the “Selling Sedona” series published this time last year. Last week we documented the failure of the Chamber of Commerce’s big city-funded marketing push to generate new tourist tax revenue. This week we look at the impacts of Sedona being overrun by day-tripper tourists.
While the big marketing push failed completely to generate new tourism revenue, it succeeded spectacularly in another way – namely generating hordes of day-tripper tourist traffic. The irony is that all that traffic was a major reason why the advertising push failed to generate new revenue.
Here’s how that happened. First, data from both the Chamber’s uptown visitor center and the Forest Service visitor center in the Village of Oak Creek continue to show that upwards of two-thirds of Sedona visitors are here for just part of a day. That should be no surprise since a significant part of the Chamber’s tourist advertising is focused on just that according to Michelle Conway, the Chamber’s marketing director. Conway reports, for example, that this year’s winter tourism promotion targeted the “drive market of the Phoenix Valley,” so people drove up – for the day.
Other Chamber marketing efforts included signs at Phoenix airport baggage claim areas, distributing over 200,000 of the Chamber’s signature publication called “Experience Sedona” at the Phoenix airport along with placement of airport banners, billboards on Phoenix highways and promotions with hotel concierges. By the time tourists reach those promotion points, they already have their plans and reservations made. The best Sedona gets is someone with part of a day to spend. So they drive up for a half-day look, perhaps take a short hike, spend almost nothing, clog our highways, jam our trailheads and parking lots, empty their trash and leave. More and more, Sedona in evolving from a destination economy to a drive-through economy. With day-trippers, it takes a very large amount of traffic to generate a small amount of tourism revenue.
The huge majority of tourists arrive by automobile. When they reach Sedona, whether they plan to stay a few days or just drive through, they find traffic jams and long waits to just get into town like this typical back-up on Hwy. 179. Those who do stay have to wade through the same traffic every day trying to reach sites they want to visit. This diminishes the experience for those who stay and discourages the day-trippers from coming back. Those who stay now linger a shorter time. This is another reflection of their growing irritation. The magic is dying and experiencing Sedona becomes no longer worth the frustration.
When they finally do arrive, tourists find crowded facilities, overfilled parking lots and long lines at popular places. This photo from along Chapel Road has become iconic of many tourist destinations in Sedona. City residents who live near these areas report feeling like prisoners in their own homes because even nearby residential streets are jammed with tourist traffic and blocked by visitors driving around looking for a place and parking wherever they can find.
And, when a visitor tries to stop for a short hike, they encounter areas like this trailhead overrun with people and vehicles, significantly diminishing their Sedona experience. The Forest Service, on whose lands most trailheads are found, are also overwhelmed by the mobs and often unable to control what takes place there. Many of the trails themselves have become littered “hiker highways” and beyond the Forest Service’s ability to properly maintain them. Forest Service data shows that use of their trail system in the Sedona area has tripled in the last 10 years.
And still the City and the Chamber keep trying to attract more and more. Much of their advertising about trails in this area is inaccurate and misleading. Their focus on sending people to easy hiking routes only leads to scenes like the one above.
If you go to the movies or a sports event and the place is full and the seats are sold out, you go somewhere else or come back some other time. Not so with the trail system. Chamber advertising and the local promoters they work with just keep sending more and more people to the same places. The city is finally putting up “No Parking” signs to keep people out of some neighborhoods. Those will be only as good as the enforcement behind them. Full trailhead parking lots only seem to encourage visitors to go find somewhere else close by and force their way in whether there is space or not.
Larger parking lots are no solution. That only puts more and more people on trails that were not designed for that kind of pressure. Making the trails wider and wider only destroys the quality and intimacy people came here to experience. No matter where one turns for solutions, the result and the message are the same: We have reached and exceed the capacity of tourists our city and the environment can sustain. It’s time to dam the tourist flood!
This whole situation is costly to visitors and residents alike in degraded experiences, diminished quality of life – and in money as well. For example, the City and Yavapai County recently announced a $1 million project to repair and repave Dry Creek Road through the area shown in the two photos above. That’s one million dollars to repair just a relatively short part of damaged city and county road! Ironically, that’s the same amount of city tax money being spent on misguided advertising by the Chamber to attract these day-use throngs in the first place.
Ultimately, these problems have a cumulative effect, especially since a primary way tourists are enticed to come to Sedona is by word of mouth. Comments from friends and social media, as verified by data gathered at the Chamber’s uptown visitor center, is the major way people are enticed to visit Sedona. These person-to-person connections share information about both the good – and the bad. It takes more red rock scenery, galleries and restaurants than we have to overcome the bad word about the congestion, stalled traffic, overcrowding, damaged trails, trampled vegetation and the declining visitor experience.
So just how long do we think the tourists will keep flooding into Sedona, even for just a low cost drive-through? How long before that negative word of mouth advertising overwhelms the million dollar advertising your tax money is funding the Chamber to produce each year? What return are we actually getting for our tax-funded advertising and what number of tourists are really needed to subsidize our city operations? And, finally, how many tourists can Sedona actually sustain and still preserve our resident’s quality of life and a quality visitor experience?
Next week, we examine these issues and the question; “Is Sedona’s tourism a bubble economy?”
(Over) Selling Sedona: Decision Points
How Do They Measure Up? Part 1 • Part 2
The Fallacy of Transit
Selling Sedona – One Year Later: Part 1 • Part 2
Selling Sedona, 2015: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Epilogue
Having talked to a few visitors during the film festival, I concur with this assessment. Those film goers have told me that their experience is greatly diminished with all the traffic everywhere, including trails. They wondered how we residents can stand it. I said we live where we do not need 89a all to get anywhere. AND we don’t hike week ends, since the parking is always filled.
While I agree with much of the article (and the previous ones), I wonder how much of the day tripper influx is really the result of COC advertising. People could be coming here for reasons we all came here (I was not enticed by COC advertising), and because gas is more affordable now. In other words, let’s not give the COC too much credit, even for clogging our roads with day trippers.
I don’t give “credit” to the CoC for the “successful” destination marketing campaign they have employed, using $1.5 million of our tax money. I don’t think they are responsible for all of our traffic ills. Tourism is on the rise in all popular destinations. However, I think it is time we realized that we do not need or want to continue advertising for more tourists. We can’t handle the number we are getting already. I don’t think our tourism numbers will drop substantially in the absence of massive expenditures by the CoC.
What is most concerning about the current situation is that here, as in many places around the country and certainly in Washington DC, we are experiencing the feeling of Impotence on the part of the people. The answer is: if you don’t like what you are getting, you need to change who you are electing to represent you. If you like traffic, keep voting for the same council members – I think most of them are running again.
Very good article but, why does Sedona Biz not demand a person put their name to published articles. Why is the author afraid to take credit for vital information?
I appreciate the author delivering us this news but, to write with no name does seem a bit wimpy. Joan Shannon
Sedona.biz knows the identity of [Concerned Sedona Resident]. She/He has valid reasons for anonymity.
yes ,he ran for office and lost
It’s clear that most tourists come here for reasons other than Chamber promotions. They’ve heard about our natural values from many other sources (much word-of-mouth), they visit friends and relatives, et al. They clog our roads, they don’t bring their own water, and they leave their trash. Most of us agree there are just too many of them coming now.
So why does the City give money to the Chamber to attract more tourists, rather than spending to reduce their impacts? Traffic management should be Priority One now, followed by other real actions to sustain and improve the quality of life for residents and the quality of experience for visitors.
Over the years the City has funded many traffic studies, but has done nothing to make traffic flow more smoothly and safely. Now the Council wants to spend another QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS on another outside consultant to do an other study!
Then it’ll be more to hire an outside engineering firm, before any real construction could begin. Think what that $1/4-MIL could do if only some common sense could be used!
Then let ’em know what you think!
Regarding the anonymity of the author, in my view, this is essentially a whistleblower scenario—an anonymous individual with inside information reporting potential or existing corruption or inappropriate behavior usually on the part of a public agency. Whistleblowers usually report the behavior to a higher authority, usually another public agency or institution.
Sedona.biz knows the identity of the individual, and has deemed the individual to be trustworthy and credible, or would not have published an article of this magnitude, for reasons of journalistic integrity and plain good business. Sedona.biz is protecting the individual and their family from potential retribution, harassment, etc. by allowing him/her to remain anonymous. That is essentially what the Washington Post did during Watergate—published articles based largely on credible information from an anonymous whistleblower.
So the question is: do you trust the editor/publisher of Sedona.biz to publish credible, factual information on critical matters affecting the public, even if from an anonymous source? I do.
To James Eaton: You said the City should take actions to sustain and improve the quality of life for residents. Mr. Eaton in 2005 you voted for a second public parking lot in Uptown encompassing Van Deren, Mesquite and Wilson streets (latter two residential and the former partially residential). This according to the traffic report done would have dumped anywhere from 2,000 to 3000 cars a day into our neighborhood. Would have caused huge traffic jams at Jordan and 89a and on Forest at the traffic lights from tourists trying to return to 89a. Even if that had been approved it would not have made any difference to the traffic problems in Uptown that we have today. At that time you did not show any concern for the residents who would also have been on long waiting lines to access 89a to go anywhere. Your ridiculed me at the Planning & Zoning Commission for presenting all the opposition I had gathered. Thank God Himself for other members of the P&Z who did not see it your way. So Mr. Eaton think back to your vote for that parking lot which would have been catastrophic not just for our residential streets but for the resulting traffic jams. Was your vote then in consideration of improving the quality of life for Uptown residents? Certainly not. Joan Shannon
Why is the chamber over in China promoting visitation to Sedona?
Why is the city funding this?
Why the Chinese? Follow the money! As the Enchantment about the Chinese tourist as they get the lion’s share.
Mike, they didn’t go to China to promote Sedona!
The Chamber offered a tour to China for residents and members as an alternative revenue generator. They generated money on it…it didn’t cost them anything!
By the way, the City doesn’t fund the chamber of commerce department.
However, China is a huge emerging market (there are several Chinese motor coach tours already coming to Sedona) and the Arizona Office of Tourism is focusing on it.
hope that helps mike
Oh please, you know nothing, If you are going to post have the facts,
this was a trip to China paid for by the the people taking the trip. Just like
National Geographic ,and the Smithsonian….. this has nothing to do with marketing.
This is the finest article on this subject to date and oh so timely, as in, right before the boiling point. The whole traffic mess is sick and wrong both the problem and , worse, the cause. The cause being the ace city government and the excessively greedy and tunnel visioned chamber of slime. Years of unnecessary/uneeded advertising/promotion have done their dastardly deed and the culprets response ? Keep advertising , keep bringing in more , more , more and more of that which we don’t want. Try to visualize fireman fighting to control a raging fire by throwing gasoline on it. Hard to visualize, YET, try to visualize the city and chamber of greed solving the traffic problem by continuing to attract yet MORE TRAFFIC. A child could see something wrong with this gig. Perhaps children could come up with the solution. It might go something like this. When fighting a fire, don’t pour gasoline on the flames. Too much traffic ? Perhaps ceasing efforts to attract yet more traffic might be a consideration
Something to think about
So, what happens to the shop owners and merchants and they’re over 8,000 employees?
Do we stop advertising in June, July and January the slow months when ¼ of the residents flee, and the rent still need to be paid.
Is Sedona just of locals?