The State of Domestic & International Tourism in Sedona, Arizona
THIS ARTICLE APPEARS IN THE RED ROCK NEWS
May 13, 2022
When I arrived in Sedona in 2009, the Great Recession was on. Revenues were down, and the City Council was forced to slash spending by more than 20 percent. Thanks to visitation, sales and bed taxes saw minimal decreases, saving citizens from really drastic reductions.
Times have changed, and they will change again. The history of tourism management is part of our ever-evolving story.
When Sedona was incorporated in 1988, the city levied a 3% sales tax and a 3% bed tax to support public services. State law required that bed taxes support tourism, but as a new city, Sedona was exempted. Sedona saw that bed taxes could fortify a budding tourism industry, the best chance for a firm economic footing. The tourism partnership among the city, business and Chamber was born.
Sedona blossomed as visitors fell in love with Red Rock Country. As a result, hoteliers and the Council agreed to increase the bed tax rate to 3.5 %, with at least 55% of revenues supporting tourism. Sophistication increased as Sedona added services such as product development, and expanded sales efforts with dedicated staffing.
In 2019, with tourism accounting for approximately 77% of city revenues, $1 billion in annual economic impact and 10,000 jobs, the City Council eliminated formula-based funding in favor of annually negotiating tourism management goals and costs with the Chamber, based on the Sustainable Tourism Plan.
Since then, world events have rocked Sedona and the nation: COVID-19, a record-setting travel surge, short-term rentals, the growth of Phoenix, the expansion of work-from-anywhere, the “Great Resignation” and staffing shortages, and the continuing spike in housing prices.
The impact of tourism permeates everyday life. As always, the question is, “Where do we go from here?” The community agrees that tourism management should support sustainability goals such as a cleaner environment, a high quality of life and a sound economy. Getting our three million plus annual visitors informed, engaged and fully on board with this effort will significantly determine our success.
It comes down to communicating with visitors and shaping Sedona’s place in their minds. For example, when you plan a trip, you have an image of what it will be like, even if you have never been there. Telluride is cool and clean, Santa Fe is artsy and relaxed. When a visitor imagines Sedona, shouldn’t they think, “majestic and unsullied?” And “Pristine, with people who advocate to keep it that way?” Or “A sacred place where I must be aware of my impact?” We think they should.
Upon arrival, they will discover our hotels, restaurants, shops, and government work together to help them help us. We offer Leave No Trace information, on-demand micro transit, trailheads shuttles, voluntourism activities, suggestions for lesser-visited and regional attractions, and helpful rangers and Visitor Center volunteers. In other words, our strategy should combine outreach and local action to firmly establish that Sedona talks the talk and walks the walk.
As tourism management professionals and Northern Arizona’s only certified Destination Management Organization, we are constantly evolving new ideas like these. We are currently planning strategic ways to inform visitors and locals to be mindful and considerate of their social media presence so that our message of respectful recreation resonates there, too.
As we enter FY23, Sedona will write a new chapter in our tourism history. We will continue to advocate for the tools we need to reach our visitors and have an impact on their actions. We need to spread the word that Sedona wants, respects and deserves visitors who are ready to show they want, respect and deserve Sedona.
–Michelle Conway, Interim President/CEO
Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau