Sedona, Arizona, is a traveler’s dream. With unparalleled natural beauty, days upon days of sunshine, a mild climate and a welcoming spirit, it’s not surprising that 3 million people visit Sedona annually. Tourism’s annual economic impact is more than 1 billion dollars, making it the area’s most significant industry.

In recent years, Sedonans have come to worry about the environmental impacts of overtourism. In response to these concerns, the Sustainable Tourism Plan was born to help preserve Sedona for generations to come. 

We spoke with Candace Carr Strauss, President/CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau to learn more about Sedona’s sustainable tourism efforts. 

Q. What is the Sustainable Tourism Plan and what led to the decision to take action?

A. As our tourism industry grew, our residents, visitors, tour operators and hoteliers were becoming concerned about impacts on our environment, which led us to study sustainability in Sedona in 2016. Over the course of 18 months, and with the assistance of the Arizona State University School of Sustainability and Nichols Tourism Group, the Sedona Chamber and the Sedona City Council spearheaded a broad community conversation about developing a measurable, strategic sustainable tourism plan that would guide our tourism management efforts.  

Town halls, online and in-person surveys, focus groups and government public meetings all had a role in seeking public guidance and feedback. The result was the participation of more than 1,000 individuals — including visitors — and a plan endorsed unanimously by the Sedona City Council in March 2019. The Sedona Sustainable Tourism Plan identifies four pillars of sustainability — and more than 60 separate, measurable actions with associated timelines and assigned responsible parties for achieving those actions. The plan is the first of its kind in Arizona and received the Governor’s Award at the annual state tourism conference in July 2019. 

Q. What changes might a return visitor to Sedona see now compared to several years ago, in terms of sustainability?

Photo: Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau

A. Roundabouts, easier vehicle access to Uptown Sedona thanks to a new southbound lane, an artistically designed median barrier through Uptown, water refill stations, enhanced walking and bike paths and fix-it stations, easy availability of information, more sustainable practices among more Sedona businesses, signage near trails reminding about “pack in and pack out” and other desired visitor behaviors – and more! Visitors arriving in the near future may see the construction of a pedestrian underpass at Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village and a connector road between the west Sedona and Uptown stretch of SR 89A that will alleviate traffic. Lots going on! 

Also, the Fly Friendly Agreement means Sedona helicopter tour operators have agreed to “no-fly” zones encompassing the entire City of Sedona to reduce air noise and protect sensitive archeological sites. In an effort to disperse hikers, new trails have been created through the Sedona Trail Keepers Program. We also encourage visitors to enjoy the entire Verde Valley, such as the Verde Valley Wine Region.

Q. What types of changes are tourism businesses undergoing to help the effort? 

A. There are over 100 businesses located in Sedona and the Verde Valley that are now sustainably certified with the Sustainability Alliance. One of the most recent businesses upgraded to the Silver/Innovative level is the Element Hotel. They have taken steps to conserve water and energy in the hotel and they have reduced their plastic and food waste, to name a few examples. Every sustainability effort is different depending on the business, and the Sustainability Alliance makes suggestions for the business as well to increase their certification level and sustainability effort. 

Q. Are there currently any sustainability-focused experiences that visitors can participate in? 

A.Our Voluntourism events are the biggest opportunities we encourage visitors to participate in. Seasonally they can help pick up trash by Oak Creek or on the trails for example. They can currently participate in volunteering for the Sedona Community Food Bank, Sedona Humane Society, Verde Valley Habitat for Humanity, or with the Sedona Historical Society maintaining the historic cemeteries in the area. All of these options are perfect ways for visitors to get more involved in the community they are visiting and connect directly with residents to learn more about how we can take care of Sedona together. Recycling and water refill stations are also around town and help reduce waste. 

Q. What are some sustainability practices visitors should remember when visiting Sedona?

A.The Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau is partners with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. When traveling anywhere or participating in outdoor activities, it is so important visitors follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. These principles are easy ways anyone can help take care of our natural environment and ecosystems.

We also encourage visitors and residents alike to take the Sedona Cares Pledge, which contains commitments like respecting the natural quiet of the area, following traffic and parking rules, and of course leaving no trace. We hope all visitors take the pledge to care for Sedona and commit to not littering, staying on the trails, being quiet, and even following CDC practices during the pandemic, among other commitments. 

Q. Has group travel, specifically, been considered in the plan?

A. Yes! Our hoteliers are very engaged in communicating with onsite guests about water conservation in the resort and while out and about. Tour operators are training in sustainability education for groups and serving as volunteer monitors of sensitive historic and prehistoric sites. Many dining experiences not only are operating sustainably but are participating in the Straw Free Sedona program, giving guests the opportunity to join us in reducing plastic waste. Voluntourism is also a possible group focused suitable activity.

Q. Is there anything else travelers should know about the Sustainable Tourism Plan? 

A. Travelers should know that the Sustainable Tourism Plan is more than just a document — it is a guiding light for Sedona’s future and one that is being implemented as we speak. The fundamental concept is to involve everyone with a stake in Sedona — including our groups and family visitors — in the roles we must play to keep Sedona sustainable. The pay-off will benefit everyone — a sustainable Sedona makes for a more memorable visitor experience and improves quality of life for residents. Preserving Sedona keeps visitors coming back to be refreshed, amazed and rejuvenated by Red Rock Country — all the while knowing that we are committed to long-term sustainable management of our destination’s attributes and our tourism industry, preserving Sedona for generations to come.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles 

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of others

For more information, call 800-288-7336 or go to visitsedona.com.