Tourism Management: Let’s Start with the Truth



May 7, 2021


Last week’s City Council meeting with the chamber started with the need to affirm truths. Truth about the relationship  between the City and the chamber. Truth about the work session and its goals. And truth about where  Sedona finds itself compared to pandemic ravaged destinations and why.

The City and the chamber are partners in tourism management through the Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan.  The chamber contracts with the City to provide destination marketing and tourism management. Last week’s meeting was a continuation of planning for FY22, with the Chamber seeking to clarify the Council’s marketing wishes in light of anti-tourism sentiment in the community, including by many in attendance asking for a stop to all marketing of Sedona.

“When is Enough Tourism Enough?”  That is not the Question

Tourism drives our economy while profoundly affecting our environment and resident quality of life.

But debating “When is enough tourism enough?” is a not legitimate considering the facts.

>> We reside less than two hours’ drive from the fastest growing metropolitan area in nation.
>> The pandemic locked down neighboring states and international borders while Arizona remained open.
>> Many urbanites sought relief from the stress of the pandemic in the great outdoors, some for the first time.

All contributed to more and different people visiting Sedona over the past year. As several Councilors and meeting attendees said, “People are going to come.”

Traffic Management Comes Up. Again.

Traffic is a complex problem that has plagued leadership for years. The City’s Sedona In Motion (SIM) plan is proof of progress, but as Mayor Moriarty pointed out, except for a small portion of 89A in Uptown, the City can do nothing to alter our main thoroughfares.  SR 179 and 89A are the province of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

To many, this suggests pausing marketing as the most accessible way to reduce visitor numbers and traffic.  In 2020, the percentage of Sedona visitors from within Arizona rose to 53%  from just 40% in 2019. It is  as safe bet all of them drove.  Although some on Council think visitors will come regardless of whether marketing is paused, Council indicated a pause for FY22 would be appropriate in our final plan and budget.

Not Communicating: A Missed Opportunity and a Mistake

Members of the public called for shutting down the chamber website and owned media channels and halting the mailing of the official Visitor Guide, though the Guide only goes to potential visitors who ask for it.

Going dark and refusing to provide information to people who ask  borders on the bizarre, as the mayor said, and as other councilors pointed out, would be a missed opportunity to educate visitors about our expected behaviors, such as following the Sedona Cares Pledge and the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace, which includes packing out trash, respecting Sedona’s neighborhoods, honoring natural quiet, being courteous to others, leaving nature as you find it and more. The Visitor’s Guide also speak to the high value visitor we want to attract – those who stay longer, spend more, respect the place and seek a unique travel experience.

Cutting back social media would also backfire –  silencing the official voice of Sedona while Instagrammers and Facebookers continue posting vacation photos encouraging visitation.

Short Term Rentals Lurk Behind the Scenes

At the meeting I pointed out that  STRs add more than 2,500 unregulated rented rooms to Sedona, making traffic and crowding worse. The city cannot require these private homeowners to provide sufficient parking, adequately handle trash, or attenuate noise from those who think staying in a Sedona means a chance to hold a house party.  Unless the legislature rolls back the deregulation of STRs, there is not much the City can do.

The Road Ahead:  Teaching our Visitors to Respect Sedona

Last week’s conversations were healthy, productive and civil despite disparate points of view. With the Council’s guidance and public input in mind, we will assemble a tourism management plan that includes robust and high-profile educational messaging about respecting Sedona’s environment and residents, increasing awareness of trash, noise, outdoor etiquette and more. Council and the chamber meet again in late May.

Stay tuned for more insights on that in my next post.

-Candace Carr Strauss,