The future of tourism in Sedona is officially in flux



April 21, 2023

Ballons in Sedona, Arizona with sunset

Last week’s decision by the City Council to study city management of the billion-dollar tourism industry will require considerable time, resources and expertise.

For many years, the Sedona Chamber & Tourism Bureau worked with the city to manage tourism’s positive and negative effects in Sedona. Along the way, we led the development of the Sustainable Tourism Plan, saw City Hall collect record tourism-related tax revenues, recalibrated our marketing to emphasize respectful visitation – such as the Respect Red Rock Country campaign — and promoted city initiatives that lessen tourism’s impact, such as the Verde and Trailhead shuttles. Other examples abound. In good faith, we advised the Council on best professional practices while working to comprehend and fulfill their directions.

After the Chamber Board’s unanimous decision not to renew our tourism contract with the city at the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2023), the Council’s April 12 discussion about making tourism management another city service saw council members echo positions the Chamber has recommended for years. It was encouraging to know our input had been heard if not previously adopted or acknowledged as sound.

In setting the tone for their discussion, council members shared their definitions of tourism management, although the concept has informed our recommendations for over a decade. There were comments from the dais about Sedona always having traffic challenges and tourism. Members described their task as encouraging tourism and managing it so that businesses prosper. One councilor stated that they love tourists and tourism. Interestingly, council members did not strongly advocate these perspectives in our discussions in recent years.

Some exasperated residents stated that Sedona favors wealthy tourists who stay longer and spend more at the expense of Arizonans who visit from Phoenix, while others say the opposite. “Which is it?” a councilor asked, “Who do we want to attract?” We have responded for years that savvy travelers who regularly explore the world and have Sedona on their ‘must visit’ or ‘must return’ list are precisely the people we want. Since they spend more and stay longer, we can thrive with fewer overall visitors. The type of visitors we have always aimed to attract are responsible travelers. Reaching them requires skillful marketing in places like Chicago, New York, Southern California and Phoenix. The Phoenix metropolitan area is regularly growing at an incredible rate (approximately 85,000 new residents in 2021). Properly positioning Sedona in the eyes of affluent Phoenicians who are a mere 90 minutes away is what we call “low-hanging fruit.” Our efforts with the Phoenix area have always been targeted, pointed and relevant. Communicating through our brand that we are a destination to be revered and adored is important to attract the right audience who will respect our city. We’ve made the case for some time, but the Council has not funded such outreach in the last two years. We cannot be sure whether the Council has now assimilated or approved of our perspective, but we continue to view it as a sound approach.

It was stated at the meeting that council members understand businesses want more people as customers, but we should work together to mitigate the impact on our lifestyle and environment. In a nutshell, that is what sustainable tourism is. The Chamber led the development of the state’s first sustainable tourism plan which was approved by the council four years ago. Sustainable tourism continues to be our directive.

It is our belief that effective destination management requires a long-term approach based upon a platform of destination visioning and tourism planning. The planning should be guided by goals, objectives and specific projects that promote the sustainability of tourism and align with residential concerns and desires. It’s what we do.

Ultimately this work reflects the SCC&TB mission: To serve the community by making Sedona the best place to live, work, play and visit.


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