A week ago during a Tuesday, Aug. 28 emergency meeting of the Travel Council advisory board, a vote was taken to cut next year’s publicity budget to the tune of estimates that could result from state legislative changes in how transient room taxes are spent. If those changes are forthcoming, there will be more leeway regarding how our county spends TRT revenues. Instead of current stipulations that require lodging tax to be spent primarily on promoting Moab, it could perhaps be used to help mitigate some of the adverse challenges that come with sometimes unbearable impacts, perhaps mitigating employee housing costs.
The proposed ad budget cut was temporary, however, when the following morning, members of the Grand County budget committee advised the Travel Council board to stick with its current ways of budgeting and spending. The budget should be based on current law, not speculative changes, county officials and board members agreed. While there is some chance that next year’s Travel Council budget will be modified, it will remain similar to previous years until and unless the Utah Legislature votes to modify how TRT revenues are used.
Based on projected TRT intake, the Travel Council will spend about $2 million on advertising in 2019. If state laws change, local public hearings will be held to modify the budget.
County employees should hope this will happen. One of the first things TRT revenues would be used for if the law is changed is employee payroll. The county—along with most private businesses in Moab—has struggled to fill and retain their staffs given cost-of-living challenges and better paying jobs in other sectors. A change in TRT laws could help the county council approve salary boosts for some of its employees.
The Travel Council and its staff have taken a lot of heat of late because of overwhelming tourist interest in the greater Moab area. Some people credit the “Mighty Five” ad campaign and its resultant hefty increases in visitor numbers throughout Utah’s five national parks and other visitor hotspots. Some people have been happy with the increased business, but many others have been critical.
The popularity of Moab has driven up real estate prices and speculative development, especially in the hotel and condominium industry. Moab has myriad new lodges under construction and coming online. Folks who are concerned about current visitor numbers, and who bemoan even more tourists as Moab gets more built up, have been quick to attack the Travel Council. They wonder how we will have enough employees to fill all the jobs, and so do I. While I think there are a number of solutions to our affordable housing issues, residential housing isn’t keeping up with hospitality housing.
Elaine Gizler, Travel Council director, has done a stellar job taking helm of the department. She has done as charged: helped Moab capitalize on its beauty, its recreational opportunities, its public lands, and the scores of businesses that serve both residents and tourists. Her overwhelming success, on the heels of predecessor Marian De Lay’s productive tenure there, is exactly what an employer would hope for in an executive. The county hired her to keep Moab’s tourism ball rolling, and that’s exactly what she has done.
Hurtful aspersions have been cast from both sides of the tourism debate. Under the pressure of emotional feelings about growth in Moab, some people have uttered words they wish they’d never said. I think most of us have done that a time or two in our lives, only to wish that divisiveness had never risen to those sorts of levels.
State law currently requires the county to spend at least 2 percent of the TRT’s 4.25 percent tariff on advertising. But there is no telling how state lawmakers feel about the law. They, and some local business owners, may want the law to stay the same as it is. If the law were to change, other options could be explored, such as requiring federal agencies to collect lodging tax on their campgrounds, and reimbursing local agencies for emergency care and other incidents that occur on public lands. These are all creative ideas well worth exploring as Moab grapples with its popularity. Tourism officials and civic leaders are listening to local concerns. It’s not likely that Moab will ever have slow periods like we were once accustomed, but there may be ways to address influx challenges to alleviate tourism growth.