Though the inclination of council members appeared to support the plan, they were leery of doing so after several impassioned comments were made during the public participation portion of the meeting. The delay also came after an opportunity presented itself for park managers and the plan’s opponents — primarily business owners who feel threatened — to come together for greater understanding.
“I don’t think you should come out for or against it. That’s not your job,” Cricket Green told council members. “I think it’s ridiculous that you’re even considering this.”
Green attended the Tuesday meeting representing Twisted Jeep Rentals and Tours. She was one of many residents, from more than a dozen businesses, who attended the meeting in a show of solidarity against the Arches reservation plan, urged to show up en masse by an email sent out earlier that day by the Moab Chamber of Commerce.
“We all know it’s not okay the way it is,” said Brendon Cameron, who manages the City Market grocery store. But, he said, “Let’s get some solutions that will work for everybody.”
Cameron, also at the suggestion of the chamber, wrote a letter to the council. He wrote, and reiterated the point in person at the meeting, that for four months of the year, the grocery store makes little profit, yet is able to keep its 135 employees in their jobs because of the money made during the tourist season.
“Without this increase during the season we cannot grow, remodel, etc.” Cameron wrote. “We will have to lay off associates.”
A majority of business leaders — at least those who have expressed anything at all on the subject — are against the current reservation-system plan, feeling that it will discourage people from coming to Moab.
Chamber of Commerce Board President Jared Anderson said that at the chamber’s last meeting, a vote was taken: Those in support of the reservation plan, zero; those opposed, “about 50,” he said.
The foundation of the area’s tourism economy is Arches, business and economy leaders say.
Josh Green, of Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures, said his company exists as a “side thing” people do while in Moab to see what they came for. “Eighty percent of our customers come in and tell us they’re here for Arches National Park.”
“It will hurt us. It will cut us,” said Jeremy Day, whose employer, TKO Hospitality, manages four hotels in Moab.
Austena Fugit, representing another five hotels, said the plan, without even being implemented yet, could have a negative impact. “We rely on foreign international travelers,” she said.
According to Fugit these tourists are such an important part of the economy that they have their own industry-lingo acronym: F.I.T.s.
“F.I.T. operators are hesitant to market us for 2019,” she said.
Fewer foreign tourists mean more empty rooms, which means fewer employees. “We don’t want to let employees go,” Fugit said.
But the plan’s supporters maintain the economy won’t be hit that hard by the plan. The “boom” period would just be more consistently spread out through the season.
Even if people displaced by the reservation requirement don’t reschedule, said Council Member Mike Duncan, it would mean only a 10-percent drop in visitation. “To my ears, it does not sound like a disaster,” Duncan said.
Though there were two people who did speak in favor of the plan, their comments were dwarfed by the number in opposition.
“This is a hard moment,” said Mayor City Mayor Emily Niehaus, when it came time for a vote on the resolution.
“What I’m hearing is people are worried about their businesses,” Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd said. “I think those people deserve to be heard in more depth … we’re in no rush to pass this.”
But Duncan countered, “How long can we keep tabling this before it becomes a non-issue?”
Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon answered that question in part. She said the National Park Service was still reviewing hundreds of comments it had received in the fall. “It takes a long time for us to go through all those comments and apply them,” she said.
Cannon said she didn’t expect a final decision on the plan until at least June. She also hinted that although the formal comment period was over, there may be room for informal comment during the current review period.
“I think we’re open to listening to ideas all along,” she said.
Cannon asked Anderson if the chamber would be willing to host an event where questions and concerns could be addressed.
“I think there’s a considerable amount of misunderstanding,” she said.
Anderson agreed to that idea. “I think that would be great for the business community.”