The Surge in Traffic, Trash in Sedona Reflect the Pandemic, New Social Trends



June 4, 2021

img_5870-1000x250For years, the City of Sedona and the Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau has sought a sustainable Sedona, focusing on destination management and growing the economy in off peak times. Our strategy has been to bring in high-value visitors who stay longer, spend more, and recreate responsibly.

But the best-laid plans are often disrupted. Today’s increases in traffic, trash and trailhead congestion are caused by events outside Sedona’s control:  the global pandemic, the ability to work from vacation sites, the rise of short-term rentals, and the explosive growth of the Phoenix metro area.

As COVID recedes, travel patterns are not returning to ‘normal.’  People are vacationing closer to home, driving rather than flying, and looking for wide-open spaces instead of urban getaways. In 2020, visitation to Sedona increased and traffic worsened as the percentage of visitors originating within Arizona rose to 53%, compared to just 40% in 2019. We saw more people – and more Arizonans. The congestion over Memorial Day is just the latest example.

Sedona Short Term Rentals = a Giant New Hotel

Sedona’s short-term rentals create problems the City cannot mitigate because state law prohibits local regulation. In Sedona, more than 2,500 rooms in 1,238 dwelling units are STRs. It is as if a massive hotel as big as the Rio in Las Vegas opened in our destination, with no provisions for parking, trash removal, dealing with noise or the most visible effect – more traffic.

Phoenix added Ten Sedonas in Just One Year

Since we are close to Phoenix – and getting closer all the time as the area expands geographically – we will always have day-trippers looking for a  quick escape.  Last year the Phoenix area – the fastest-growing metro area in the country – added 106,000 people, approximately ten times the population of Sedona.  The trend is only accelerating and translates into more Sedona traffic indefinitely.

Cutting Destination Marketing Offers No Guarantee

Our economic resurgence is diminished in the eyes of Sedonans because of traffic, trail congestion, trash and restaurants so busy that reservations are required days in advance. The question of how we reduce traffic, and the sheer number of visitors does not have a simple solution.

The City Council’s response is a one-year pause on destination marketing, the intentional act of inviting people to visit Sedona. There is no guarantee that this pause will reduce traffic or visitation.  The trash and traffic we saw this spring likely came from increased visitation from the Phoenix area and the pandemic’s push of plastics for safety, which increased plastic waste. It occurred despite a steep cutback in marketing throughout 2020 and a full stop since February 2021.

As Mayor Moriarty says, we won’t know until we try, and Sedona tends to buck expected trends. We are hard at work with City Manager Karen Osburn finalizing a FY22 budget that includes a marketing pause, and a myriad of new destination management programs to mitigate impacts where we are able. We stand ready to get to work.

-Candace Carr Strauss,