Locals manage Sedona tourism

August 10, 2018



I love talking with Sedonans about our economy, our challenges, and our future. I’ve even started a Monday morning 9:00 a.m. Coffee Chat at the Chamber Offices for anyone to stop by.  Lately, people are interested in how and why the Chamber manages and markets tourism in Sedona.

In most places, tourism is managed by a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) or Destination Management and Marketing Association (DMMO). DMMOs market their community to increase revenues by attracting visitors. They manage tourism through visitor programs and education.

In smaller communities where the main industry is tourism, DMMOs are often nonprofit Chambers of Commerce.  Aspen, Colorado and Park City, Utah are examples.

That is the situation in Sedona, where the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau (SCC&TB) is a 501 (c) 6 nonprofit and a nationally accredited DMMO, the only one in Northern Arizona and one of only five in Arizona.

Approximately 90 percent of DMMOs in small and midsized communities nationally are funded by local government, typically by bed taxes charged to overnight visitors.  Bed taxes are popular because they are paid almost entirely by tourists, not community residents.  Bed taxes are Sedona’s tourism funding source.

So, Sedona’s tourism structure and funding mechanism are not unique; they are well-established around Arizona and the United States.

Here, I will mention that the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Bureau are two distinct functions. The Chamber is funded 100 percent by membership fees.  The Tourism Bureau is funded by 55 percent of the city’s bed tax revenues.  The Tourism Bureau’s Council-approved FY19 budget is $2.1 million.

How does our budget compare?

Las Vegas spends an astounding $300 million per year to attract visitors.  Scottsdale’s bed tax dollars fund a budget of more than $12 million. Tucson’s budget is about the same size, with over $9 million coming from bed taxes. Mesa’s tourism marketing receives $3.1 million from bed taxes. The aforementioned Park City, Utah is funded by $9 million in bed taxes.

A survey of 250 DMOs by Destinations International in 2015 found the average budget is $3.39 million.  Sedona’s budget is significantly lower than other Arizona cities and the national average.

What about accountability?

Our budgets are public record, reviewed and approved by the Sedona City Council each year.  We collaborate with the Council in an annual open-to-the-public work session to set tourism goals. We develop a plan and budget for Council approval that includes numerous measurable outcomes, quarterly written performance updates and we present at least two public updates each year. On June 12, Council approved our FY19 budget plan unanimously.

We are also subject to a third-party annual financial review and a full audit at least every third year. A scheduled audit is underway now for FY18.

Some people have asked if the Chamber contract is the result of a competitive process.  The answer is no, which is true in most places where DMMOs manage tourism. That’s because DMMOs are unique organizations – community-based nonprofits focused solely on managing and marketing the community’s tourism industry. There is no similar organization in Sedona or in Northern Arizona, so a request for proposals from DMMOs would not produce any competitive applicants.

Why aren’t outside, private marketing firms lobbying to compete?

Private, for-profit outside firms understand that not being DMMOs, they cannot provide at a competitive price the services the contract requires: full branding, advertising, marketing, public relations, websites, calendar of events, management services, travel industry sales, group sales, co-op advertising, product development and local communications and engagement; plus, a solid core of 80+ trained volunteers.

Just as importantly, no outside firm can match our accountability to Sedonans. Can we put a price on the fact that we know our community and our businesses, and Sedonans know all of us? The forthcoming Sustainable Tourism Plan, election forum sponsorships, even this column and our Monday Coffee Chats are excellent examples of our responsiveness to community needs and concerns. Private companies can’t compete, especially when they are trying to make a profit, versus the Chamber being a nonprofit.

There is so much more!  That’s why we have a new FAQ site that answers all your questions about our tourism operations SedonaTourismInfo.com. If you want to know more, stop by our Chamber Administrative Office any Monday at 9:00 a.m. for a chat over coffee. We’ll be there!

–Jennifer Wesselhoff

Listen to what Michelle Conway says about Tourism management: