Sustainable Tourism Plan Recognition



October 4, 2019


pink hedgehog cactus flowersSedona’s response to the challenges of a tourism economy joins a rising tide of sustainability initiatives around the globe. In varying degrees, destinations such as Copenhagen, Barcelona and Kyoto are adopting plans to keep their economies thriving while addressing overcrowding, traffic, environmental issues and threats to resident quality of life.

Even the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization has weighed in, recommending improved infrastructure, reduced seasonality, enhanced data analysis and visitor education – all of which Sedona is doing.

With national recognition in the New York Times and PBS, Sedona’s sustainable tourism plans are attracting attention from other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, whose government is slowly opening the country to tourism for the first time.

Recently, the Saudi Royal Commission for Al Ula, an environmentally sensitive archeological site featuring spectacular edifices similar to Jordan’s famous Petra, dispatched two groups of budding tour guides to Sedona, all eager to learn from Sedona’s recently adopted plan to balance our economy, quality of life, environment and visitor experience.

Building tourism from the ground up in remote Al Ula is a challenge for the Commission, known as RCU. Their aim is to introduce sensitive, sustainable development of the region as one of the country’s most important archaeological and cultural destinations. RCU’s approach encompasses infrastructure, lodging, culture, education and the arts – components that are also critical to Sedona’s sustainability plans.

RCU is already making environmental headlines, announcing the birth of two Arabian leopard cubs as part of a program to reintroduce the endangered cat into the Saudi Arabian wild.

In August, RCU announced a deal for three distinct luxury developments in Al Ula, including a tented camp for “glamping,” a full-service hotel, and a desert ranch-style resort.

At the same time, RCU is busily recruiting and training guides as on-the-ground experts to serve the coming wave of Al Ula visitors. In August, two groups of 12 Al Ula residents arrived in Sedona for two weeks of immersive training. They experienced off-road tours led by seasoned guides and received first-hand classroom training from USFS rangers, archaeologists, private tour guides and State Parks employees. They learned the value of trail and site preservation and the fragility of a semi-arid environment. With State and USFS professionals, they visited the area’s unique archaeological sites to absorb how guides present site history and handle questions.

In Phoenix, they toured the outstanding Heard Museum, seeing how indigenous art and cultural history can be curated and displayed, a tour that included a behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s organization and structure. They spent hours at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, learning how to display local flora in stunningly beautiful yet educational ways. They consumed lesson after lesson in classroom sessions on communications, customer service and storytelling.

In destinations both developed and developing, in places as diverse as Sedona and Saudi Arabia, communities face similar tourism challenges and are seeking sustainable solutions. The Al Ula experience shows Sedona’s capacity to contribute to the global conversation, helping and learning from others around the world. It is another positive sign on the road to a sustainable Sedona future.

Visit to learn more.

–Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO