Schenkat: Scottsdale residents deserve voice in where marketing dollars go

A few weeks ago, an article was published about my opinion related to the marketing Scottsdale receives from Experience Scottsdale (formerly known as Scottsdale Visitor and Convention Bureau).

Sandy Schenkat

If you take a look at Experience Scottsdale’s Visitor Guide and their website, you will see images of a Hummer cruising through the desert. The city awards Experience Scottsdale about $9.8 million of Scottsdale’s bed tax funds to market the city.

More than 60 percent of that money is spent on salaries and office rent. Their executive director makes more than $500,000 per year with a staff of 41.

Six vice presidents make from $160,000 to $268,000 per year. Their vice president of finance makes the most at $268,000. Their approximate budget and funding annually is $13 million. By contrast, our city manager who oversees 2,700 employees, earns $220,000. Our city chief financial officer and city treasurer makes less than $200,000 while overseeing a billion dollar budget.

It is beyond my comprehension why there is such a disparity in salaries when all parties involved basically work for the city.

At a recent city meeting after my opinion piece was published, I was approached by one of Experience’s vice presidents who asked me “What do you want?”

My response was “Truth and honesty in marketing Scottsdale.”

Apparently, the image of the Hummer racing through the desert will remain because this nonprofit group believes that this is the messaging and image that will lure tourists to Scottsdale. I have asked for proof that this is the reason tourists come to Scottsdale … so that they can take hummer rides through the Tonto Forest, which is not even in Scottsdale?

There is no proof of the importance of this attraction, but the Experience marketing vice president advised me that if I have never taken the ride through the desert, then I should.

The citizens of Scottsdale should be able to weigh in on this abuse of funding. This city offers so much more than Hummers and bonfires in the desert with cocktail-drinking consumers. Why do we accept this imaging and marketing as the ultimate marketing campaign?

In 2016, these marketing experts placed subway wraps in northern cities such as New York with images of the desert and spas. This campaign cost about $3.5 million in 2016 during the winter season.

Experience claims the return on this investment was $67 per each $1 invested in economic return to the city. However, while Experience Scottsdale boasts $67 of tourist spending for each $1 spent on advertising, this statistic ignores the fact that less than half the Experience budget is actually spent on advertising, since most of their budget is spent on salaries, rent and other overhead expenses.

Furthermore, even the $67 return is an estimate of gross tourist spending. So, obviously the tax receipts returned to the city of Scottsdale is a small fraction of that number, and in reality the return on the expenditure is closer to $2.64 per $1 invested in sale tax earned instead.

This situation is typical of how the citizens of Scottsdale who do not pay attention to city related funding get taken advantage of. How can we get more accountability and better marketing to improve the quality of our tourists?

Scottsdale is not just Anytown USA. We do not need to invite people to our city who want to violate our Preserve. This is a true “bait and switch” because no vehicles are allowed in our “billion dollar preserve,” which you, the citizens have all paid for. So citizens, please pay attention to your “own back yard” and demand “on target marketing” of your city.

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

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