I’ve finally come home! I grew up on the Wasatch Front and I’ve lived in several Utah communities including Payson, Provo, Paradise and Logan. Additionally, I’ve resided in scattered places around the country including the Baltimore/D.C. area, Greenville and Raleigh, N.C., and Tucson, Ariz. After appreciating all these areas and the life experiences that came with them I’ve finally made it to the community and surroundings that is truly my “home.” We all have our own reasons for choosing Moab as our home but I suspect the thread common to all of those reasons is quality of life. Sadly, quality of life is also the reason many are contemplating leaving this place we’ve called home.
Our Travel Council Advisory Board and Travel Council staff has been extremely successful at promoting our breathtakingly beautiful area to the rest of the country and to the whole world. We host roughly 2.5 million visitors annually from all over the globe, and you are not alone if you feel that our lands, our infrastructure, and our communities are beyond carrying capacity.
Continued advertising at the current level is detrimental to quality of life for our residents. Simply stated: more advertising means more tourists, which leads to stressing our lands and our infrastructure to the breaking point, and unfortunately also necessitates more hotels and overnight rentals, which requires more workers, working at non-living wage jobs, competing for already scarce affordable workforce housing…perpetuating a never-ending cycle.
Addressing these issues requires approaching them with two main strategies. First, the dollars spent on promoting our area as a recreation destination need to be redirected to include creative advertising which fulfills the statutory requirements outlined in state code and at the same time delineates an educational component that will help visitors understand how to take care of the precious resources that we are privileged to have in our midst. This strategy has the added benefit that we begin working on this right now; there is no need to wait for the next legislative session.
Second, the statutorily defined formula for the allocation of how the Transient Room Tax monies are spent needs to change. In a mature tourist economy, such as ours, the mandate to spend nearly half of TRT on promotion is counter-productive, damaging to the environment, destructive to our quality of life, devalues the visitor’s experience, and is unnecessary. That formula needs to change and it will take a legislative mandate to alter it.
Council Member Curtis Wells used an apt analogy during a recent Grand County Council meeting in describing the problems associated with ever-increasing tourism in a fifth-class county (such as Grand) that is not equipped in terms of budget and infrastructure to support that volume. He likened it to an individual with the bone and muscle structure designed to support his/her 200-pound frame being asked to carry a burden two or three times as large.
A bill at the recent legislative session had the potential to restructure the way the Transient Room Tax is both allocated and spent (H.B. 367). Rather than mandating that nearly half of the county’s TRT allocation be spent on tourism promotion, that amount would decrease to one-third; the remaining two-thirds would be used to mitigate impacts of tourism. Up to this point the percentages of allocation between promotion and mitigation remain unchanged. We need to begin lobbying for change at the upcoming legislative session. I believe our senator and our representatives on the hill are ready to listen to and act on a unified message from the Travel Council, Grand County Council, Moab City Council, and the residents of this county.
Meanwhile here are three things that as citizens and stewards of Grand County you can do:
1) Be a voice for positive change. Rather than attacking the Travel Council for fulfilling their statutory mandate, provide them with positive feedback that includes constructive suggestions for a new and creative direction in spending promotion dollars.
2) Support legislative efforts to change the statutorily defined formula that allocates the ratio of promotion dollars to mitigation dollars. We no longer need to spend as much on promotion; we have built it and they will keep coming…
3) Consider applying for a position on the Travel Council Advisory Board. At the time of this writing, there is one (possibly two) vacant seats and there will be three at the end of December. In order to serve on the board one needs to work in the tourism industry, either in a company subject to pay Transient Room Taxes or in tourism-related industries.
The Travel Council Advisory Board and the entire community would benefit from individuals with the ability to think outside of the box for solutions that will fulfill the requirements of state statute but preserve the stunning landscape and improve the quality of life that brought so many of us here and encouraged so many to stay.
Jaylyn Hawks writes as a private resident of the Moab community. She is a member of the Grand County Council, but in this opinion piece speaks only for herself.