You’ll soon see more of Delicate Arch if you’re in Texas and Illinois.
The Moab Area Travel Council is planning to expand its marketing reach this year to Austin and Chicago, although some members of the community hope to see a reversal in where the advertising money is spent by instead focusing on marketing in Moab instead of in outside markets.
The new marketing plan is aimed at drawing younger visitors to Moab who enjoy hiking and biking, said Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler. The travel council is pulling its advertising out of the market it has established over the past three years in southern California.
Grand County Council member Greg Halliday said he supports the plan.
“The part that I like about this is that the farther away these people have to come, the more likely they are to fly and rent a car to get here, rather than drive their motorhome up from southern California so on that part I think it’s better,” Halliday said.
The Grand County Council met on Tuesday, June 4, to discuss whether the county authorized going after grant money made available in 2019 from the state to promote tourism. With the council’s approval, Gizler would have submitted a $250,000 grant application to the State Office of Tourism no later than June 13 that would have matched $250,000 from the travel council’s budget. The $500,000 would be used to promote educational videos and efforts within new advertising markets, Gizler said.
But Grand County Council members had differing opinions on the proposed grant application and how tax dollars are being spent on marketing. With the county council’s final vote tallying 3-4, the motion to support the grant failed.
Halliday and council members Rory Paxman and Curtis Wells supported the grant proposal, whereas members Mary McGann, Jaylyn Hawks, Terry Morse and Evan Clapper voted against it.
Clapper, the council’s chair, said he would like to see the grant funds used by the travel council to promote more “responsible tourism” in the Moab area and for the county to take a year off of promoting Moab in distant markets.
“I’d like to see that $250,000 match spent on things like that and personally don’t think our citizens would support … billboards and TV ads in Texas and Illinois for this year,” Clapper said.
Although the county’s visitation and growth is growing, Grand County Clerk/Auditor Chris Baird warned the council that the county is “seeing a sharp trend downward” and presented the council with Transient Room Tax (TRT) figures collected from hotels and overnight rentals.
“I just want you to be aware that between 2016 and 2017, TRT grew almost 12%. Between 17 and 18, it dropped almost 4 or 5% down to around 7.5% growth, so there’s a sharp decline in TRT growth that we’re seeing,” Baird said. “But I also want you to keep in mind that if the park service does institute a reservation system, I think we realize that there’s going to be two or three years of drops in visitation before it normalizes again.”
Kate Cannon, the National Park Service superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group of national parks, has discussed plans for an advanced reservation for entering Arches National Park at peak visitation times throughout the year. An economic study released this year to the public indicates that the effect of instituting the system would deter visitation and further slow economic growth in Moab and a 13-county region stretching as far as Carbondale, Colorado.
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES
Gizler, who joined the county council’s discussion by phone, isn’t slowing down her efforts to support local businesses despite any slowdown in economic growth.
“You don’t have to approve it and that’s your prerogative,” Gizler told the council. “I know my board is supporting the effort too, the business people who comprise a lot of my board have approved it. The business owners with their letters of recommendation are approving it.”
She outlined her thoughts and plans throughout the discussion without a pause, as other council members attempted to interject comments.
“I think the bigger repercussions would be from our business community … the fact that our county isn’t going after grant funding that’s offered to everybody … all the counties are going to be presenting for grant funding,” Gizler said. “I think the business community would probably be upset or feel like they’re not being supported —”
“Elaine —,” Wells said.
“— One of the smaller entrepreneurs that we have can’t afford to run advertising. … They’re relying on us to drive visitation. …” Gizler continued. “We would be using the funds that we have, we just wouldn’t be getting funding —”
“— So Elaine, this is —,” Wells said.
“— And the grant funding that we do get actually helps me to pull funds from my budget to support the videos, support the marketing efforts for the new marketing program that we have,” she said.
“Personally I’m not outright opposed to what you’re proposing, but I think the council has already expressed some different opinions on it so these are the kinds of things that is best for us to work out in advance, but I say that in understanding,” Wells said. “Have you had the county council not approve one of these grant applications before?”
Gizler said she is aware of two times in the past 15 years when the funding was not approved.
“Since I’ve been in place, I’ve gotten over $900,000 in funding in the four years that I’ve been on board,” she said.
A HANDLE ON VISITORS
Hawks spoke up and said that in her personal bed and breakfast business, she has noticed an increase in visitors coming from southern California.
“We have a terrifically successful campaign in southern California,” Hawks said. “… To now go after the Chicago and Austin markets feels before we have a handle on how we’re going to take care of the guests and visitors that we already have, seems to me to feel a little bit premature.”
Citing traffic congestion and services, council member Morse said he agreed.
“… We are right now in the midst of a situation in our community where we have pretty much an overdose of visitors without being able to supply them, in my mind at least, with a lot of the infrastructure things that a resort would supply a tourist community (with),” he said.
“If we don’t get the grant funding, it’s just something I would have to pull out of our budget,” Gizler said. “The grant funding would help to offset and be able to let us do more educational videos … support to the new local program we’re going to launch in July, which is all marketed around education and —”
“— Elaine —” Clapper said.
“— Especially with getting the messaging out, producing a lot of marketing materials, and educating the visitors,” she said. “We’re going to be targeting on educating people who have already made their reservations to tell them about how they need to be when they’re here … ”
“— Yeah, I think that —” Clapper said.
“— If we don’t take advantage of the grant funding, then we’ll just work things just within our regular budget and see what we can do then,” Gizler said.
“Yeah, I really like those campaigns that you are referencing,” Clapper said, “and I would like to see that $250,000 that we would match on this grant to promote tourist visitation from outside the state, I would like to see us spend that locally here on educating with these exact programs that you have designed and your staff have been working on.”
McGann said she thinks “what the people in Moab would like to see is not expanding our market at this point.”
“We need to do our best to get people into town with the traffic,” she said. “… there’s so many problems we have to face, to not expand our market this year, I think, is a good idea.”