Summer 2021 Travel Tsunami something Sedona Can’t Control



June 11, 2021

dscf6800sedonalitessunriseA new normal?  Nationally, 8.1 million more hikers hit the trails in 2020, a 16.3% jump from 2019, according to the Outdoor Foundation’s recently released report. We have all experienced this deluge on our beloved Coconino National Forest trails first hand.

As we head into summer and vaccines tamp down COVID fears, destinations all over the country are bracing for record crowds and strained resources as millions of Americans with pent-up enthusiasm for the great outdoors head out to explore. Sedona has no reason to think we are immune.

National Parks Requiring Reservations for Scenic Drives

How severe is the overcrowding?

> Maine’s Acadia National Park to require paid reservations to drive up Cadillac Summit Road, a favored sunrise spot.
> Glacier National Park in Montana launched a similar system on Going-to-the-Sun Road and quickly sold out.
> Yosemite and Zion are also implementing reservations.

“People think they’re getting nature, and instead they’re inhaling car exhaust and finding everything overcrowded,” said Neil Sesai of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Small Towns and Private Rentals Trending Upward. Hotels, too.

Sedona’s continued transition to whole home short term rentals – 66 added since January 1, according to the City of Sedona – is fueling our increased visitation, part of a national trend. Airbnb says travelers are avoiding densely-populated New York and San Francisco in favor of small towns and parks. “Vacationers want patios, backyards and barbecue areas for Fourth of July” as well as trails and outdoor scenery, reports CNBC.

Nationally, hotel bookings have tripled since February even as people clamor for more private rentals. However, in Sedona, traditional lodging has been down or flat since before the pandemic.

They are Coming by Car and By Air

AAA Travel says most of the 84 million Americans who will travel in the next six months intend to drive, with rental cars nearly impossible to find. Nevertheless, the TSA screened more than 7.1 million people during the Memorial Day weekend — the most since March 2020.

For outdoor destinations such as Sedona, the pattern seems clear:  Arizonans will drive to get here; out-of-state travelers will fly as close as they can, then drive here.

Chamber programs such as the Take the Sedona Cares Pledge and Sedona’s Secret Seven educate our visitors on how to recreate responsibly and to disperse them throughout the greater Verde Valley. More widespread outreach to visitors is needed, however.

Another National Trend: The Acute Labor Shortage 

Don’t be surprised to find town and trails busy, or to find restaurants reducing hours or requiring reservations days in advance.  The latter is not just attributable to crowds. The labor shortage in Sedona is part of a national crisis. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is proposing legislation and government action that, if implemented, will upskill American workers and help more businesses find and hire the talent they need. Generous unemployment benefits and the cost of childcare are also inhibiting the return to work for many. American Rescue Plan funding should help reduce childcare costs, and generous supplemental unemployment benefits expire soon.

National Trends Affect Our Tourism Economy, Though Outside Our Control

Tourism, the heart of Sedona’s economy, is a complicated animal. Dynamics such as consumer mood, travel trends and labor supply have enormous impact but are invisible to most people, though chambers know them well.

Destination management requires a big-picture approach that includes resident and visitor communication, a regional framework for tourism and continued growth of sustainability initiatives.  It is a challenge for which Sedona is well positioned, requiring community-wide understanding, cooperation and support.

-Candace Carr Strauss,