Schenkat: Scottsdale destination marketing formula misses the mark

Scottsdale’s largest industry is tourism and back in 2010 the citizens voted to approve Prop. 200 to impose a bed tax of 5 percent on hotel/resort guest rooms. In 2017, this tax amounted to almost $20 million. A total of 50 percent of this tax represents the funds for “destination marketing.”

Sandy Schenkat

In other words almost $10 million per year is slated for the purpose of marketing Scottsdale as a destination to outside markets such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Scottsdale’s City Council has awarded our entire destination marketing funds via a no-bid contract to Experience Scottsdale. In my opinion, there are two issues with the use of this $10 million funds by Experience Scottsdale: one issue is that they are not marketing our downtown assets commensurate with their importance as a tourists draw; and the other is that they are mis-marketing our city to target Millenials in a very disproportionate way.

To address the first issue concerning the marketing of downtown Scottsdale, it appears that the resorts deem the half of the 5 percent bed tax as belonging to them. In other words, they more or less expect Experience to spend this money on promoting the resorts themselves as a destination. But the reality is that the voters approved this tax to be used for “destination marketing” of the city of Scottsdale and its assets.

It is not just for the resorts.

Downtown is a significant tourist attraction, but Experience seems to not be interested in helping to market and promote our downtown to include the Arts District, Old Town, 5th Avenue, Waterfront, etc, as the resorts would rather keep the guests on their premises so that they spend more money on in-house dining, entertainment and other services.

Therefore, it appears that downtown is their competition. Downtown Scottsdale is one of our most unique assets, but it is looked down on by some of the resorts as having problems with customer service and limited hours.

It has been suggested by Experience officials and some of the resort general managers, who are on the Experience board, that a “Secret Shopper” company be hired to spy on the downtown shops in search of evidence of poor customer service. This idea is in direct conflict with Trip Advisor, an internationally trusted internet review blog, which has relatively high ratings for our downtown shopping districts.

So, it appears that Experience and some of the resorts are trying to manufacture an excuse so that they don’t have to send guests downtown and that Experience does not have to help market downtown.

To compound this problem, while Experience is supposed to be promoting our city’s major assets, they instead spend a great deal of their efforts promoting private entities which are not in Scottsdale. For example, Grand Canyon Celebration of Art recently got top billing at the Experience Scottsdale Concierge Desk at the Fashion Square Mall, while Scottsdale Museum of the West, a $14 million city asset and major visitor attraction, had very limited visibility if any.

It is time that our city council request that this non profit business called Experience Scottsdale become more attentive to the needs of the city.

The second issue has to do with how Experience Scottsdale markets our city and what demographics they target. Recently, I spoke to the council and asked that they review the Hummer/Jeep racing through a desert with a bonfire scene, which is the video on the Experience website seen by over 2 million viewers and was the cover of their Visitor Guide in 2017.

This week, the Scottsdale Official Visitor’s Guide for 2018 was published by Experience with a cover photo showing a very young woman with a hazy photo of Soleri bells in the background.

The cover of the 2018 visitor’s guide produced by Experience Scottsdale. (Submitted photo)

I will be suggesting again to the city council that they ask Experience Scottsdale to review their marketing, which is entirely focused on targeting the Millennial demographic. There is little emphasis on attracting the Gen X and Baby Boomer visitors, who are the people who spend the real money in our city.

In a recent article, USA Today claims Boomers are still doing the bulk of the spending and driving the U.S. economy.

Experience Scottsdale has a no-bid contract with total control of not just the $10 million but most of the commissioners on the Tourism Development Commission who dispense the other $10 million who are personal selections by the Experience board of directors.

This is a monopoly, which the city council has allowed to exist. Our city government needs to take control of the bed tax and market our city like other Valley cities do. Why would Experience put a photo of a young woman on the cover of the guide when this city has so many wonderful assets? ie: photos of our beautiful Preserve, Mountain sunsets, golf courses, waterfront or downtown … or even resorts?

If this type of disproportionate Millennial marketing continues, our city will risk losing our cache as a world class destination which attracts affluent visitors.

Editor’s note: Ms. Schenkat is a resident of Scottsdale

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