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Sedona Traffic Congestion – A New Era of “Sustainable Tourism”

Sheri Sperry June 26, 2018

Sedona Traffic Congestion

Sedona Traffic Congestion

A New Era of Sustainable Tourism

The Delicate Balance

Sedona is an economy sustained by tourism. The hospitality industry is considered the largest contributor to the Sedona economy. It is a major source of income not only to Sedona but the the entire Verde Valley.  With 3 million to 5 million visitors a year visiting Sedona, and a local population of 10,255 (estimated), there needs to be a delicate balance.  Visitors and locals need to co-exist.

Who Is the City Government Working For?

Our city government handles many complaints every week from residents who travel our local streets. The mayor picks up some of these calls and may hear from an angry resident about the traffic issues.Some of these calls are considered “rants”. However, many residents feel that the mayor and others are putting tourism over the local residents needs. Sedona residents and others who live locally in the Verde Valley, feel that the delicate balance has shifted toward the tourist.

Tourism subsidizes our City services to the tune of $2,630 per household, according to the Sedona Chamber of Commerce.  Without tourism, each of the roughly 5,125 households would have to come up with that money to pay for basic services. This is why we must consider the delicate balance between the residents and visitors.

An Example of the Delicate Balance Shift to Tourism

I get it, 66% of the sales tax revenue comes from tourism. Here is an example of this shift.  There is a goal to get more mountain bikers to visit the area, many of the hiking trails have been cultivated to be mountain bike friendly. It is hard to enjoy a nice hike when mountain bikes are whizzing by you, telling you to “move over”! Also the mountain bike yearly festival is the same time period as the Sedona International Film Festival.  Seems to me, that there are 52 weeks in a year. Do we really need two very different “Festivals” in the same week?

A Resident’s Point of View

As a resident of West Sedona, I have talked with many locals and clients about the situation.  Sedona has some beautiful hiking trails. You can find these trails everywhere. Many of these trails are located within residential areas. With the increase in tourism three fold in the past 10 years, (Arizona Daily Sun – May 7) many of the trailheads cannot sustain the traffic and parking in and near these trailheads.  Most of the trailheads are either in neighborhoods or a short walk from a neighborhood.  Cars are parking on the shoulder of neighborhood arteries. The cars are parked partly in the street and erode the shoulder. This is also causing a major safety hazard. Soldiers Pass and Dry Creek Road are two areas that this is most noticeable. Some cars are parking up to ½ mile or more from the trailheads. Hikers and mountain bikers are walking and riding in the middle of the street creating another hazard on these heavily congested residential arteries and neighborhoods.

Traffic Is A Matter of Perspective

While working as a Sedona REALTOR®, I have found some clients say that there is way to much traffic and they have decided to buy elsewhere. I have owned a home in Sedona since 2003. I have seen a lot of changes over that time. In my opinion, If we are not changing we are stagnating. However, if you have only lived in a small town atmosphere, it might be hard to convince you that the Sedona traffic issues are not that bad. Those of us who come from highly urban areas know that traffic can be a real nightmare. In Chicago, I can remember driving one exit on the expressway that took ½ hour.  In the Los Angeles/Orange County metropolitan area, you could easily add one to two hours extra to your commute depending on time of day and where you were traveling (maybe even more)!

Pinch Points

The traffic congestion I showed in the two images added 5 to 15 extra minutes. On a holiday, you might see a 30 to 40 minute increase in traffic if you are coming from the far end of the Big Park area.  Rarely, does the traffic exceed a 10 -15 minute adjustment if you are coming from the Chapel area. Just like the beach areas in summer, locals learn what is the time to travel with the least amount of traffic. When possible, we schedule tasks and appointments in non-peak hours. Locals know the pinch points and how to avoid them. I should also say that the city understands where the pinch points are as well. Solutions are already in the pipeline to minimize high traffic pinch points.

Can Sedona Survive Without the Hospitality Industry? 

Our visitors add over $11 million in local tax dollars and they generate over 66% of the sales tax revenue. There are 10,000 jobs that are support our tourism at over $200 million in wages. The Top 5 employers are:

  • Enchantment Resort
  • Diamond Resorts – Los Abrigados, Bell Rock Inn, The Ridge, and The Summit among others.
  • L’Auberge, Orchard’s Inn, and 89Agave
  • Hilton Sedona Resort and Spa
  • Pink Jeep Tours

State Route 179 constructionThis is just a fraction of the number of businesses that help support and sustain Sedona’s Tourism economy. Can we live without tourism? I think not!

 How Did Sedona Get Here?

I look back at the Great Recession and remember what it was like to watch local establishments go out of business. Some of that was also fueled by the necessary improvement in the state highway SR179. The combination of the road improvements and Great Recession hurt local business.

Many Say The Chamber Is Doing Too Good A Job!

Our Chamber of Commerce is led by an outstanding team, some frustrated residents might say they are “too good”.  There is more to Sedona’s tourism improvement than just the Chamber of Commerce. A better economy and targeted marketing from the Chamber along with national media attention during  National Championship sporting events and the Super Bowl as well as increased Cactus League spring baseball training and social media “sharing” contribute to the continuing improvement and draw of tourists.

 

Sedona Chamber of Commerce Versus the “Delicate Balance”? 

 

Sedona Chamber of CommerceWhat to do? Many visitors and residents alike come to Sedona to get away from the traffic and congestion of their own areas. They want to escape and relax, enjoy the outdoors, and all that Sedona offers. However, if things keep becoming more congested without any improvement or solutions, we may see these much needed tourist dollars go to other areas. We need to fix the traffic pinch points and do our best to even out the tourism spikes, so we can get back to that delicate balance.

The Red Rock News in an article about the pavilion in Barbara Antonsen Park, Jennifer Wesselhoff said “that often, Sedona is a bit of a ‘confused community'”. She may be right on point. Here is her quote with more below. We want a vibrant economy but we don’t want noise,” she said. “We want tourism dollars but we don’t want tourists. We want events but we don’t want too much traffic. We want to be a city animated by the arts but we don’t want music at night. We’re a little confused as to what we want to be when we grow up.

A Message from the Chamber CEO

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce headed by Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO, published a “Message from the CEO” outlining the traffic challenges and start of solutions for the “Destination Plan”.  Here is a small part of her letter…

I’m excited because starting at the City Council meeting starting at 4:30 p.m., we start managing tourism in a new way – focusing on preserving Sedona’s quality of life and lessening tourism’s impact by managing the visitor experience.
It will take a community consensus to fix challenges like traffic congestion, but I believe the Chamber can take some immediate actions: 
  • We are asking Council route a planned $268,900 increase in the tourism budget to transportation improvements instead.
  • I will present plans to reinvest 23% of our tourism budget in Sedona.
  • I’ll explain that we will not market Sedona inside Arizona this summer, aiming to help alleviate traffic, at least a bit.
  • We will mention the Sustainable Tourism Plan we are preparing in partnership with the City of Sedona and ASU, due this fall. The Plan will include exciting new ideas in transportation alternatives, visitor education and community stewardship.
We have a lot to talk about in balancing preservation and a tourism-based economy, and it is time to get the conversation going.

 

According to the Chamber website, the Sedona Sustainable tourism Plan is due in October 2018. Jennifer Wesselhoff stated that she is “confident it will help us work together to balance the three legs of the Sedona experience.”

These three legs include, Environmental, Traffic and Housing as well as Economic considerations. You can find out more about the “Sustainable Tourism Plan” at this link.

Some of the information I am sharing was researched from Quarterly Report to City of Sedona, March 2018 and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce

 

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