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Wed, Aug. 10

Chamber Focus: Americans hitting the road to travel in record numbers

A sunset in Sedona. (Sedona Chamber/Courtesy)

A sunset in Sedona. (Sedona Chamber/Courtesy)

Happy Holidays! December is here, and how quickly 2021 has flown. All of us at the chamber hope you enjoyed a rewarding Thanksgiving with friends and loved ones. I am grateful we have the protocols, testing, vaccines and our natural immunity working together to make get-togethers much safer than in COVID's earliest days.

If you traveled or had out-of-town guests, you had a glimpse of Americans hitting the road in record numbers, a trend that's been growing since the spring. In November, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. is permitting entry for fully vaccinated international visitors. As a result, Airbnb's Brian Chesky says his company saw an immediate 44% increase in cross-border bookings. Travel is booming like never before.

Locally, we benefit from the millions of dollars tourists inject into the economy each month, providing good-paying work for anyone who wants it and sales/bed tax collections that underwrite most public services. But, as we all know, we continue to have long-term issues with heavy traffic and congestion at our restaurants and popular trailheads. The chamber's newly-revised "Sedona's Secret 7," which aims to disperse visitors to less frequented sites, is our latest effort to help.

The big news is this: the City of Sedona recently uncovered a previously hidden reason for congestion, in addition to our proximity to Phoenix and people’s need to get outdoors. The firm that calculates the number of short-term rentals for the city refined its techniques and discovered almost 500 previously unknown rental rooms in the area. As a result, the exact total as of October is 3,277, 15% higher than the previous estimate of 2,800.

Wow.

That's like discovering a major hotel has been operating invisibly in our midst, regularly churning thousands of people and vehicles through Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. The Sedona Lodging Council estimates one room-night generates about six car trips; you can do the math on what 400 additional rental rooms means to traffic. This dramatic upward revision also shows that in the not-too-distant future, STRs could conceivably outnumber the Sedona area's 4,391 hotel rooms.

We should be clear that short-term rentals on their own are not a bad thing. They provide a relaxed, homey atmosphere many visitors find preferable to a hotel or resort. For homeowners, they provide extra income, and competition keeps them in good condition.

Nevertheless, they are the source of many complaints about trash, noise, on-street parking and other neighborhood concerns. In addition, investors are buying homes to operate solely as unregulated mini-hotels, and landlords are converting long-term rentals to STRs, worsening our housing shortage.

When SB1350 became state law in 2016, it voided Sedona's ordinance forbidding short-term rentals. Local governments can't even regulate STRS in the same manner as they regulate hotels – such as determining where they go, their appearance or their parking and safety standards.

Reasonable regulation is possible. I have pointed out in the past that San Diego limits the number of STRs to 1% of housing inventory. By comparison, 12% of Sedona's housing stock is short-term rentals. In November, Sedona's STR-specific lobbyist and the League of Cities and Towns told the City Council they are considering pushing for similar caps when the legislature convenes in January. That is excellent news. We suggest limiting the number of STR properties an individual or corporation can own in one community would be another beneficial change.

As Sedona celebrates this joyous season, I hope the holiday spirit of goodwill carries us forward, welcoming all perspectives as we seek sustainable solutions to our rapidly changing travel and tourism ecosystem.

Candace Carr Strauss is president and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.

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