There’s concern in our community about taxpayer funding for the Chamber of Commerce. Some call to defund the Chamber, while others rally to its defense. The city budget process is the proper venue for this discussion. Thoughtful, fact-based arguments are needed to help us avoid unintended outcomes like increased problems with over-tourism, expanded city government, or pitting residents against local businesses they support.
As background, each year the City contracts with the Chamber to provide tourism related services. In past years, spending was focused on marketing Sedona as a ‘must see’ destination and for operating the Uptown Visitor’s Center. In recent years, the funding has shifted away from ‘destination marketing’ to mitigating the impacts of tourism (like providing trailhead restrooms, educating tourists to better care for Sedona, and directing them to lesser-used trails). Paid-for marketing doesn’t seem necessary to attract visitors anymore. Social media, travel websites and magazines, and every photo ever taken of Sedona has revealed us to the world. We’ve been ‘discovered.’
Many tourism-driven mountain towns face similar problems with over-tourism. Tourism bureaus are fast becoming tourism mitigation bureaus. Mitigation efforts are needed, and somebody must do them. Chambers bring important connections to business communities and a can-do attitude. Defunding the Chamber could be short-sighted if mitigation tasks are neglected. Other unintended outcomes could arise if tourism mitigation falls to an expanded city government. And nobody wins a battle that pits residents against local businesses.
There are reasonable questions being asked about how and why taxpayer dollars are allocated and spent, and how efficient and effective the spending is. Clarity is a good thing; our overwhelmed residents deserve it. The annual city budget process is the place to work these issues out, and to focus on improving our residents’ experience.