State Leaders Point to Tourism Competition as a Challenge to Sedona



September 2, 2022


forecast-eventI am excited to tell you that I was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, the leading advocate for Arizona’s visitor industry. AzLTA leadership includes Arizona professional sports teams, utility companies, hotels, resorts, and destination management organizations like ours. It is active in all lodging and tourism-related issues, working with the legislature, governor, and local governments. Sedona is well represented. Chamber Board member (and past Chairman) Lonnie Lillie is on the AzLTA Board. Stan Kantkowski, General Manager of the Enchantment Resort and MiiAmo, is on the Executive Committees of both the AzLTA and Chamber Boards.


Last week, the Chamber and the Enchantment hosted the AzLTA’s Northern Arizona Industry Forecast, a glimpse of the near future of the area’s tourism and lodging sectors. Leading state tourism officials spoke to more than 120 local civic leaders, with information of interest to all Sedonans.


Vail Ross, Senior VP of STR, the nations’ leading hospitality data analytics firm, reported that leisure travelers, not business or group travel, is “getting us out of the (COVID shutdowns) with a vengeance.” In Northern Arizona, they are willing to pay to stay. She stated that Sedona, Flagstaff and Page are exceeding 2019’s average daily price for a hotel room – a development not occurring in other Arizona markets monitored by AzLTA.  Arizona Office of Tourism Director Debbie Johnson credited Arizonans themselves with “saving tourism during the pandemic by getting out and discovering Arizona,” something Sedonans know well; our economic rebound has been fueled by short term visitors from the Phoenix area, many seeing Sedona for the first time. Johnson added that all visitors say taking tours and enjoying the outdoors – Northern Arizona strong suits – are their primary reasons for travel, second only to visiting friends and family.


As more people get interested in wine tours, the growing reputation of Verde Valley wines is on Johnson’s radar. She said lawmakers have directed $100,000 each of the last two years for the marketing of Arizona’s wine country. This investment can benefit our local vineyards and vintners while aiding the dispersion of Sedona tourism.


All speakers underlined the intensely competitive nature of post-COVID tourism. Vail Ross says Sedona must now compete with destinations as far flung as Tennessee “because leisure travelers have choices and are being marketed to.” Urban centers in the top 25 national destinations “are marketing like crazy,” to the leisure traveler as corporate and international travel continues to lag.  Arizona destinations, Debbie Johnson added, must compete for the attention of people who make their own plans instead of joining group tours. Looking for places to go and things to do, these travelers are aggressively targeted by destinations around the country. “It is so competitive,” AzLTA Director Kim Sabow echoed. “That’s why we work to get marketing dollars to Arizona’s destinations. If you stop watering the plant, it withers and is overtaken by other plants,” she added. ”I can’t emphasize that enough.”


Underlining the connection of tourism with economic development, Sabow said, “The ROI is ten to one. It’s undeniable. It’s data.” She concedes tourism is a “complex, nuanced topic, not easy to get your head around. We try to remind everyone of its indispensability.” The bottom line, Vail Ross said: “Tourism equals economic development.”


Sedona’s billion-dollar tourism industry is a lifeline connected to the livelihood of most working families. Many small businesses are vulnerable to even the most subtle slowdown. As we implement a Destination Management Plan that helps visitors act with respect and appreciation for our fragile environment and small-town lifestyle, we should also resolve to appreciate our guests, many of them fellow Arizonans, who make our way of life possible while seeking just a taste of the splendors we enjoy every day.

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