The Moab Area Travel Council is seeking $250,000 from the Utah Office of Tourism for a Southern California advertising campaign. That was the primary action item at the council’s Tuesday afternoon meeting June 12. Money received from UOT would be matched with funds from the Travel Council budget, possibly resulting in a $500,000 effort to attract more visitors from Southern California. The motion to ask UOT for $250,000 was passed unanimously by the board. UOT has granted money to the Travel Council every year for at least a decade, so the board was confident in its chances.
The marketing campaign would be focused on the 30 million people mostly living in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, Bakersfield and San Diego. More traditional avenues such as radio, television and outdoor advertising will still be utilized, but digital outlets such as TripAdvisor, Expedia and Hulu are becoming larger parts of the plan. One major advantage the Travel Council gets from digital advertising is the ease in capturing statistics. “We actually know if people see our ad and then end up here in Moab,” said the Travel Council’s Executive Director Elaine Gizler. “It’s a way for us to validate what we’re spending and know if it’s working.”
Thus far in 2018, the Travel Council’s efforts in Southern California have already proven successful. Compared to the first quarter of 2017, the amount spent on Moab lodging by people from Southern California is up 41 percent. This is due in part to statistics that indicate hotel prices are up 29 percent from last year, but increased visitation is likely adding a share. It matches the overall trend for Moab’s tourism economy. The Travel Council’s revenues, which mostly come from transient room taxes, are up $148,000, or 16 percent from this point last year.
“All in all, our marketing in Southern California really seems to be working,” Gizler claimed. “It’s a drive market for us…not only does it benefit us, it will benefit everyone in Southern Utah as [visitors] make their way across.”
Gizler continued, “Recently we’ve had a lot of letters to the editor and people complaining about tourism, but all I have to say is that we don’t have a city property tax yet” she argued, adding that county property taxes have not been increased in 13 years. Moab City Manager David Everitt added, “I think it is even fair to say property taxes in the county go down every year in terms of the rate because how it’s adjusted.” He is the city’s liaison on the Travel Council.
The board discussed how negative local reactions against increased tourism fail to recognize how vital the money is to Moab’s economy. “We know we have a lot of tourists, but they’re paying a lot of our bills,” Gizler said. “We need tourists here to help us to keep our economy going,” she continued. “People have to realize tourism is all we’ve got right now. We have to try to make the best of it.”
Tax revenue distributed by the county goes to a variety of areas, including the Travel Council, the Museum of Moab, the airport, solid waste, emergency medical services, search and rescue, and law enforcement activities. The board brainstormed ideas about how to more effectively communicate to the public how tourist dollars are spent to improve the community. One idea mentioned was putting up signs saying something along the lines of “Your tourism dollars at work.’” However, board members were unsure where such signs could be placed. “We just need to do more talking, because we tried running an ad in the paper and that seemed to backfire,” said Gizler. She acknowledged there are challenges associated with the high number of visitors coming to Moab, but the city and county councils are working hard to address them. Gizler noted that fixing the affordable housing issue should be the top priority.
Showing Moab locals the benefits of living in a global tourist destination is a major goal of the Travel Council. The advisory board’s chair, Howard Trenholme, talked about the role of the board. “We do have a role that we can play as a tax advisory board… we could recommend that money be set aside for brick-and-mortar projects that say this was brought to you by tourist dollars.”
The meeting also featured a presentation from Dillon Hoyt, the new manager of Dead Horse Point State Park. Hoyt discussed the challenges from increased visitation and the measures the park is taking to address them. In 2018, the park increased its number of campsites from 21 to 52. Additionally, the number of yurts went from three to nine. On June 1, the park increased its fees from $15 to $20. Increased fees will go towards helping the park deal with the stress placed on its water supply, which must be trucked up to the overlook, as well as its facilities and trails. Moving forward, Hoyt plans on increasing wages for seasonal employees from $9.26 to $12 per hour to attract better employees and to encourage them to return year after year. Improving signage along trails to keep people from wandering off and destroying vegetation is also a primary goal. Adding multilingual information to visitor center displays, interpretive signs at the point and online resources is another objective.
Joette Langianese, the executive director of the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands, provided an update on the efforts of the Dark Sky initiative. Arches will soon join Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Hovenweep as a designated dark sky park. Astro-tourism is a growing market and Moab is setting itself apart as a premier destination for those looking to enjoy incredible nighttime vistas, she said.
Moab’s economy continues to grow, and the Travel Council has no plans to slow down marketing. “There’s a bright future ahead for our community,” said Gizler.