Redefining tourism management is a critical, yet chaotic process



January 20, 2023


Panoramic view of Sedona surrounded by the red stone mountainsTrue or false: Does city tax dollars paid by Sedona residents fund the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau? Many people persistently believe this, though it has never been true.

The Chamber’s support comes from more than 700 members who pay an annual fee to receive our services. The tourism management side of our business is funded by Sedona hotel customers, almost exclusively tourists, who pay a ‘bed tax.’ We use only a portion of that tax — the portion local hoteliers have agreed to pay for the SCC&TB to market Sedona. As a Sedona resident, you don’t fund any SCC&TB activities unless you stay at a hotel within the city limits.

Let’s face it — a billion-dollar tourism industry is a vast, complicated thing, and funding is one example of this complexity. Ten thousand jobs, tens of millions in tax revenue, our quality of life, the state of our environment, our water and transportation policy and our cultural life — are all tied to tourism. The list goes on.

The City and the Chamber have partnered for years to manage and direct this formidable economic engine. We can define our mutual goal with one word: Sustainability. Can we balance the needs of our economy, environment and quality of life while offering visitors the heart-stopping encounter with the Red Rock Country they seek?

Achieving this is the subject of an often, emotional debate. In our regular mid-fiscal-year meeting on tourism management last week, the City Council and Chamber board began to feel our way toward a realignment of responsibilities in a new post-COVID tourism universe. It is an occasionally tumultuous process requiring patience and good will.

We reviewed with the Council our status as one of only 200 certified Destination Management Organizations in the world and how those qualifications make us capable tourism managers, handling hundreds of national and international media requests each year, for example.

We discussed the tangle of interests around the Visitor Center, a Chamber-owned and operated property that we fund with a portion of our bed tax allocation, as well as the discussion of allowing non-Chamber businesses to place their brochures at the Visitor Center.

We called out the oft-repeated untruth that the SCC&TB spends our bed tax allocation entirely on marketing. Organizationally, we talked about everything from a fee-for-service relationship — where the Council hires the SCC&TB for specific tourism tasks — to whether bed taxes are the best way to fund tourism, to whether the Chamber and the Tourism Bureau should have new, separate advisory boards.

It is a sign of our community’s openness and strength that we are conducting such an elemental discussion in public. Though chaotic, the process signals transparency — a classic example of ‘seeing how the sausage is made’ through review, debate and building consensus in full public view.

For our members, I want to emphasize that as we continue to work with the Council toward a new definition of tourism management in Sedona, our top priority is to service your needs. Our programs, from counseling to networking to professional development, have never been more robust and continue to grow. You are our primary focus. That will never change.

Our role as leading destination managers will also remain constant, no matter how we ultimately define it. Naturally, we will advocate from a position of what is best for our local businesses, understanding that a healthy economic base is the bedrock of a sustainable future. In the coming months, we will work with city management to bring an FY24 tourism management plan to Council while evolving a framework for managing our most prominent industry in a way that makes sense for Sedona, sustainability, business success and public service.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 4:30 p.m., at City Hall, the SCC&TB will present a targeted destination marketing strategy and concept to the City Council with the purpose of assisting our community businesses this fiscal year. We would like to encourage you to attend this public meeting. The City is asking for local businesses to communicate their concerns; we hope to see you there.


Michelle Conway, President/CEO
Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau