CST and Nichols Tourism Group developing tourism strategic plan for Sedona

School of Community Resources and Development

September 24, 2018 - Early in 2017, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau called for proposals to conduct a Sustainable Tourism Development Strategic Plan, envisioning a better management of the fast developing destination in the long run.

Sedona is a world famous destination in Arizona. The Sedona area’s tourism industry has been developing for the last 50 years. Sedona is known for its stunning red rock scenery and pristine natural environment. One of the region’s major attractions is the Coconino National Forest Red Rock Ranger District which surrounds the City of Sedona. The area’s 300+ miles of trails include iconic red rock formations, archeological and heritage sites, Oak Creek, wilderness areas, national monuments, and state parks, making Sedona one of the nation’s top outdoor recreational destinations. Other attractions include the city’s rich arts, film and Native American culture, as well as the unique spiritual energy that draws millions of visitors to the area.

Annual visitation to Sedona has historically hovered around 2.8 million visitors per year, however, peak seasons and holidays bring a heavy pulse wave particularly at weekends. High visitation to Grand Canyon National Park (just two hours from Sedona) has pushed infrastructure capacity and sustainability issues to a tipping point in Sedona.

Furthermore, with the increased growth of occupancy and average daily rates, Sedona is poised for some lodging developments. Other projects under consideration include upgraded infrastructure, public transportation, new attractions, and other initiatives geared towards enhancing the visitor experience. At the same time, there are concerns about how this growth impacts the quality of life for residents. There is a segment of residents who question tourism’s value to Sedona.

In August 2017, the Center for Sustainable Tourism (CST) at ASU and its strategic alliance partner Nichols Tourism Group (NTG) were contracted by the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau (CCVB) to conduct Sustainable Tourism Development Strategic Plan. The overall goals of this project are to:

  1. Review the status of the Sedona tourism industry in terms of visitor trends, accommodation capacity, tourism-related infrastructure and tourism product offerings through the lens of destination competitiveness and sustainability.
  2. Engage residents and businesses in the overall vision of tourism in Sedona.
  3. Provide recommendations of the limits of acceptable change the tourism industry should strive to not exceed.
  4. Develop a visitor management system that takes into consideration the anticipated growth in visitation.
  5. Create a framework of key indicators for measuring/monitoring the impacts of tourism (economic, social, environmental) that can be used during the 5-year plan and beyond.
  6. Create a Sustainable Tourism Management Plan to cover the period 2018-2022 (five years) based on the community’s vision for tourism, the market potential for tourism growth, and a sustainable tourism development approach.

The project has been implemented since September 2017 and will end in November 2018. ASU team includes four faculty (Christine Vogt as Principal Investigator, Kathleen Andereck, Gyan Nyaupane, Christine Buzinde) and Kim Pham, Ph.D. student and Graduate Research Assistant. Participant from NTG is its president, Mitch Nichols.

From January to September 2018, the team has completed the majority of the work. One thousand and one on-site surveys were collected from tourists at six main attraction places in Sedona, including one state park, one shopping area, Uptown, two forest service trail heads and one historic site. One thousand surveys were mailed to randomly selected residents of Sedona, 379 were completed and returned. Seven hundreds and thirty local businesses were invited to take part in an online survey, 262 responded. All the surveys attempted to understand the profiles of tourists, residents, and businesses in Sedona as well as their perspectives about tourism development and sustainability. Several questions were asked in all the surveys for cross-comparison of participants’ opinions. In June 2018, the project team organized two focus groups with public land management agencies and non-profit organizations in Sedona. Data analysis showed some pressing issues in Sedona such as traffic congestion, crowding, noise, and lack of affordable housing for residents and workers. A situation analysis and a preliminary strategic sustainable development plan were created based on the data analysis, observation, and reference to situations at different tourism destinations in the world and in the USA.

In early September 2018, the team organized a Strategic Advisory Group Meeting with CCVB managers, the Sedona city manager and staff to review key market, survey findings and discuss potential approaches to address these factors. Following this meeting, two Sustainable Tourism Plan Public Visioning Sessions took place to report to the Sedona public about results of the project and collect public inputs. Five pillars of development were identified: Accommodation & Visitation, Tourism Bureau Roles, Transportation, Product Development Enhancement, and Environmental. The project team will organize two more Strategic Advisory Group Meetings in October 2018. A final research report and a sustainable development plan will be submitted and publicized in this November.

Sedona Sustainable Tourism Project is one of several projects that the Center for Sustainable Tourism at ASU is implementing at different tourism destinations in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. The projects are expected to create positive impacts on the development of the destinations in a sustainable way.

Focus groups with land management agencies and non-profits, June 2018