Sedona’s Journey to Balanced Tourism Management



February 14, 2020

dsc03600The recent Keep Sedona Beautiful annual awards got me thinking about Sedona’s long journey to balanced tourism management. You might be surprised to learn it started decades ago.

If we had a sustainability time machine and set the dials to March 1992, we would find a Sedona Forum discussing economic sustainability. The Forum report cites “…increased traffic congestion and decreased quality of life” as major concerns, adding, “The economics of real estate are making our community unaffordable for many.”  Sound familiar?

Step back inside and set the machine four years ahead to January 1996 and witness another Sedona Forum. The background report recognizes tourism as “the largest source of income, jobs and…tax revenue.”   Community conflicts, the report states, can be minimized by resolving issues such as “the cost of living (read: housing), quality of life and traffic.”

Report writers Walter M. Vannette and Ray Newton of NAU go on to cite a 1994 study that read today, shows Sedona’s values have not changed. Twenty-six years ago, people expressed a desire for “preservation of the natural environment; stewardship; balanced growth and sustainability; maintenance of a small-town atmosphere and collaboration.” They concluded, “These themes are…cornerstones for shaping the future of Sedona.”

Over time, they were exactly right.

The 1996 Forum set a direction from which Sedona never wavered, calling for “a strategic planning process, revised marketing strategies, environmentally-sensitive land ordinances, people-moving systems and outlying parking, visitor centers, enhancing the duration and quality of visitor stays, myth-busting communication and collaboration.”

It goes on to say Sedona should work to attract “the desired tourist type,” create “visitor education (and) comprehensive transportation plans,” and highlight art, culture and “eco-tourism.”

Today all of these are official Sedona policies embodied in the Sustainable Tourism Plan (STP), unanimously adopted by the City Council in March 2019.

Along the way, Sedona learned that tackling such far-reaching strategies takes time, persistence and passion.

As our time machine moves toward the present, we encounter dozens of people and organizations keeping the flame alive. Jonathan Duncan and Diane Dearmore of The Institute of Ecotourism’s 2005 Sustainable Tourism report is a famous landmark. John Neville and Sustainable Arizona created the Value, the Verde Pledge and Verde Compact more than 10 years ago, and Eric Marcus of Sustainable Economic Development Initiative made crucial contributions. The Sedona Women created the Water Wise Alliance and Barbara Litrell, who along with The League of Women Voters, created Water Awareness Month in 2005 which was recognized by then Governor Janet Napolitano. It’s because of their literal “hands-on” work that all our local restaurants have low-flow fixtures. Today, the tireless work of Darcy Hitchcock of the Sustainability Alliance, and devoted individuals such as Max Licher, Chip Norton, Paul Chevalier, and Ernie Strauch keep Sedona moving forward.

When Rob Adams served as mayor from 2008 to 2014, he encouraged Keep Sedona Beautiful and the Chamber to work more closely to make a sustainable plan a reality.  Joanne Kendrick was crucial in helping Sedona earn International Dark Sky certification in 2014. Mike Yarbrough continues to be the Sedona’s strongest advocate to mitigate air noise. Jon Thompson, when he served on City Council, encouraged the City and the Chamber to pursue a sustainability focus and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Assessment, the study that galvanized the final push. The work of these pioneers culminated in 2018 with the remarkable communitywide effort that produced the STP.

Today, Sedona is fulfilling their vision. Popular events are becoming zero waste, road transportation improvements are underway with more to come, transit is expanding, businesses are earning sustainability certifications, the Sedona Cares Pledge is educating visitors, trail maintenance partnerships are growing.  And this is just the beginning.

From our 2020 perspective, we can clearly see sustainability as part our future – partly because, as the saying goes, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

                                                          –Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO