Tourism

Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler (right) spoke about the county’s new “Do it like a local” program during the Moab Chamber of Commerce luncheon on June 18 at SpringHill Suites. She said the effort is a new movement aimed at educating visitors before they come to Moab. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Do it like a Moab local.

That’s the new movement taking off in Moab, one that local officials hope will be felt worldwide.

The “Do it like a local” movement is a program spearheaded by the Moab Area Travel Council, which met on June 18 with the Grand County Council to talk about the county’s recent decision to drop support on a state grant that would have promoted Moab tourism in Chicago and Austin.

County officials cited overcrowding in Moab as one of the reasons to scale back on the advertising budget in 2020 that will continue to draw more visitors to the area.

But Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler warned officials that a pause next year on advertising is likely to impact visitation for small businesses who don’t have large budgets to promote their services outside of the community. An advocate for local businesses, Gizler is also advocating for locals.

“I need the entire 10,000 people in Grand County to get on board with this program,” she said.

Despite the county’s lack of support for the state grant, Gizler said the travel council’s board and its staff are kickstarting the “Do it like a local” message with $200,000 to $250,000 in funding this year, with another $300,000 projected to be included in next year’s budget.

“We’re the first community in the country that’s working on this type of — it’s not a marketing program, it’s more of moving the needle — movement so that we can make people around the world understand what we are trying to convey,” she said.

Gizler stressed the “Do it like a local” program is not “a tagline.” If it’s successful, the program will educate visitors from around the world on best tourism practices in Moab before they arrive.

COMMUNITY FEELS TOURISM STRESS

Stress has been a topic of discussion in Moab long before the California-based career research firm Zippia named Moab as “the most stressed out city in Utah” this year.

Stress was mentioned as a driving factor behind change in Moab throughout the meeting. with officials honing in on infrastructure, water, housing, commercial services and increased pressure being felt by local agencies charged with providing services in the county. Grand County Council member Mary McGann said some of these agencies are seeing double-digit increases in demand for services, she said.

“Our different places that provide services for our community are feeling an incredible amount of stress,” McGann said. “Our fire department, our ambulances, our search and recuse are feeling like they are falling apart.”

Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), for example, saw its busiest month on record in 2018 with 146 calls in September, only to see that record broken this May after responding to 152 calls.

McGann said the county is not promoting to “end tourism,” but is studying ways to “maintain growth” by working with local agencies to manage the “incredible increase in tourism that they find it hard to work with.”

One option being discussed, she said, is to establish additional impact fees on campgrounds located in the county that would bring in more revenue to offset the costs to mitigate the impacts of growth and tourism.

Moab is visited by about 3 million people annually, but the year-round population in the county is just 10,000 people.

LOCAL BUSINESSES FEEL STRESS, TOO

Gizler suggested to the county council on June 4 that its decision to vote against applying for a state grant to promote Moab in Chicago and Austin would upset some people in the local business community.

Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board member Howard Trenholme is one of those people. He owns Red Rock Bakery in Moab and opened the June 18 meeting with the county by sharing a three-page letter and prefacing his concern for business in Moab.

At one point during the meeting, he told those in attendance, “I’m emotional, I’m very passionate about tourism.”

He said without funding promotion for tourism to Moab in other markets, Grand County is at risk of looking “like a lot of class 5 counties in Utah.” Following a surge in spring visitation, he said local businesses are seeing a dip.

“My business right now is exceptionally slow,” Trenholme said. “The travel council is a … valuable tool for the economic success of this county and it should not be thrown away.”

Trenholme said businesses are feeling stress by not being able to accommodate employees, largely due to a lack of housing, he said, which in turn means the customers and tourists aren’t being accommodated with “five-star” services.

Grand County Council chair Evan Clapper said that despite the council’s decision to not support efforts to apply for the state grant for advertising in distant markets, he does support efforts to fund advertising and promotion efforts in Moab to educate visitors.

“Howard, you highlighted that the community is feeling a lot of stresses,” Clapper said. “In regards to the grant that we decided not to go for this year, for me it was really just a pause for a year to catch up and address those other stresses. I think that there's some great ideas from the board as well as Elaine's office and staff about promoting visitation once they’re here and having a really good experience so we can continue to protect our product that we’re offering to the world.”

He said that other communities, taking a cue from Moab, are looking at ways to protect their resources now so that they “don’t get Moab’d.”

Although he said local businesses would benefit from the promotional funding, Clapper said the council’s message is that “we don’t want to advertise to new markets (like Chicago and Austin) … because we are feeling those strains you have highlighted and citizens are constantly commenting to us.”

“I resent that statement, sir,” Trenholme said. “I’m sorry, but that’s an insult to the business community.”

Clapper reiterated that he would still like to see less money spent on the “come to Moab” advertising initiatives and more money spend on “enjoy Moab … in a nice way.”

“So we want no advertising to bring anybody in anywhere, so we’ll take the money allocated under that line item and use it for videos and education,” Gizler reiterated.

“Can we stay in our existing markets at least?” Trenholme said.

The Grand County Council did not give directives to the travel council on how it should or should not allocate its budget, with Grand County Council member Curtis Wells saying that it’s up to the travel council to understand advertising “theory,” and not the county council.

“No one’s trying to kill the travel council,” Clapper said. “No one wants to do away with this, everyone recognizes a thriving tourist economy is crucial to our town. … They’re saying, whoa, pump the brakes, so that’s the message we’re handing over to (the travel council board). That’s kind of the view from 40,000 feet, you guys.”

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