Atypical Memorial Day Weekend



June 5, 2020

Some dramatic clouds and light from the setting sun on Catherdral Rock in Sedona Arizona.Memorial Day weekend drew a few surprised reactions around Sedona. Most did not expect heavy traffic or hotels reporting 91 percent occupancy. Others were surprised that some travelers did not appear to observe expected safety practices.

Colleagues around the country and from Flagstaff to Tucson share similar stories, and a reason seems to be emerging. National data show Memorial Day travelers – the first to venture out since the pandemic crisis began –  tended toward riskier behavior while releasing pent up, cabin-fever frustrations.  Almost as soon as they appeared, they were gone.  We estimate that hotel occupancy levels plummeted from 91 percent to between 20 and 30 percent this last week.

It was an atypical Memorial Day weekend, here and around the country, with some valuable takeaways.

Due to coronavirus, we have not advertised Sedona in more than three months.  Advertising is strategic, shaping the tourism profile Sedonans want by targeting a demographic who leave Sedona better than they found it (more on that below). It is all part of building a sustainable Sedona.  Memorial Day may have shown what happens when we step back and let tourism just happen:  a sudden flood of visitors arrives unaware of our environment and quality of life priorities, have little interaction with us, and depart as quickly as they came, leaving some Sedonans rattled.

Food for thought. And not the type of tourism we want.

Memorial Day shows Sedona’s sustainability plans – still in their first full year – are not only the community consensus but the only logical tourism management path. Next week, the City Council will discuss Sedona’s FY21 Destination Recovery Program. The Program sticks to our sustainability strategies, such as advertising for longer-staying guests – not the hit and run of last weekend.  Longer stays mitigate traffic and boost local spending.  We have moved in the right direction in recent years as average stays increased from 2 to 3.1 nights.  Strategic advertising supported by enviro-sensitive messages and dispersion techniques make a difference.

Multi-night travelers tend to be curious, open-minded, and interested in learning and exploring. They want to visit less-frequented areas, are intrigued by our quality of life, desire to get to know us, and are ready to share a message of responsible visitation with their social media friends. Reaching out to these affluent, responsible and adventurous travelers remains a priority in achieving balanced, sustainable tourism.

Sedona’s embrace of a detailed sustainability plan puts us far ahead of most destinations grappling with similar issues.  Achieving balance takes time and practice, though. On a balance beam, you may tip one way, then the other, and once you reach equilibrium, you make constant micro-adjustments. You get better over time. That is where we are headed.

It is hard work. There will always be potshots from the bushes and people who refuse to climb aboard and help.  But Sedona will keep pushing forward – and learning – together.  The harmony of our beautiful community is well worth it.

–Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO