Sedona AZ (January 7, 2017) – At a Special Sedona City Council Meeting, 3:00 Wednesday afternoon January 11, 2017, after three long years of a contentious destination marketing agreement with the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, the City will again revisit the issue. We can only hope the negotiations will prove to be less controversial, fairer and, in turn, result in acceptable transparency which will dismiss suspicion and mistrust of City Hall dealings. That might very well have been the case had the original commitment for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) as well as certified outside audits been upheld as proposed during the initial negotiations. Ignoring both valid concerns was a disservice to everyone.
Five options will be discussed at this meeting as follows:
Option 1: Move forward with the negotiations of a new contract with the Chamber of Commerce.
Option 2: Issue an RFP for tourism promotion services.
Option 3: Create a stand-alone destination marketing organization (DMO) without ties to the Chamber of Commerce.
Option 4: Create a City Department to handle tourism promotion.
Option 5: Issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a travel industry consultancy to assess the current structure, funding relationships, etc. and provide recommendations to the city.
Pros and cons of each option will be discussed at length, such as concerns RFPs will include bids from for-profit agencies. That brings up several questions. Without an official outside audit from a qualified source, how do they know the Chamber has not been making a profit? How many employees have they hired? What has been the cost of improvement to their own facilities, etc? And what is the source of funding for those operating expenses?
And will the City acknowledge the Chamber currently offers their own RFPs for specific services, realistically reducing them to a mere middle-agency, acting on behalf of the City of Sedona?
And how do they justify the extended branding of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce that has occurred within the past three years? What has been the source of that promotional funding for the Chamber instead of the City?
By creating a stand-alone destination marketing organization, the City could avoid real or perceived conflicts between tourism promotion services and the various other functions of the Chamber of Commerce. Although they specify: Unclear how local and regional partners would react, why should that concern the City? Should their focus at long last be redirected to the residents of incorporated Sedona? They are the people who created the City in the first place, clearly, and with knowledge, it attracted tourists.
Sure, a stand-alone destination marketing organization would result in the re-creation of an already established and successful local agency. However the extent of success of the present local agency has never been undisputedly proven. The source of increased revenue after the great recession coupled with a reduction in gasoline prices has never factually been factored into the increased tourism and resulting upswing in revenue. Nor has it been determined to what extent advertising monies have merely resulted in excessive day-tripping, which the City’s infrastructure clearly cannot handle.
As for the suggestion for Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a travel industry consultancy to assess and monitor the current structure, would that be nothing more than a baby sitter for the contract with the Chamber of Commerce? Should the City have been serving that function for the past three years?
It has frequently been said the City could not afford to operate their stand-alone department. And how would they know? With a Chamber of Commerce now providing funding for USFS trail maintenance, contributing money back to the City for their traffic study, and other generous, but questionably frivolous expenditures, most recently to propose purchasing property on behalf of the City with what appears to be leftover funds from the bed tax rebate, how can they make that determination without a precise and reliable audit from an authentic source? They cannot. Is there any reasonable explanation why the City should not take responsibility for allocating the bed tax revenue - all of it – including over and above destination marketing?
And the perfect opportunity to establish a genuine Sedona Visitors Center has been ignored by not including such a service at the Western Gateway. How long will this City tolerate discrimination of their own legitimate licensed, tax collecting businesses within City Limits unless they are forced to be members of what clearly is a regional Chamber of Commerce? And the practice of paid referrals is common, but should the City be involved by financing the activity with public funds, and further discriminating against in-city businesses?
With the recent hiring of a professional, Molly Spangler, to serve as Economic Development Director, there is really no need to burden our busy Chamber of Commerce with more additional duties besides servicing their members, which is the purpose of their non-profit organization.
And, since when was The Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau deemed the Destination Marketing & Management Organization in Sedona for 65 years? Up until just a few years ago was it not the Oak Creek Canyon Sedona Chamber of Commerce, then changed to Sedona Chamber of Commerce, and most recently ”& Tourism Bureau” was tacked on? This elaborate extension of creating yet another illusion that simply does not exist is pretty much over the top. Wouldn’t you agree? Dumb question.
There is already a campaign in motion to Make America Great Again. How about a local endeavor to Make Sedona Respectable Again? Meet and greet our visitors with an authentic Sedona Visitors Center and related advertising. Don’t we deserve it like other places? Flagstaff (AZ) and Park City (UT) are, but two, examples that offer proof they survive very well without financial support to their respective Chambers of Commerce.