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This is a verbatim transcription of citizen comments by Mr. Bill Haven and commissioners Bruce Adams, Rebecca Benally, and Phil Lyman during the September 4, 2018 San Juan County Commission meeting.

The audio can be heard here. Comments begin at 12 minutes 45 seconds

Bill Haven: Bill Haven, President of the Blanding Travel Council (BATC) and owner of Abajo Haven Guest Cabins. I wanted to make a comment and give the commissioners a letter on this controversial monument advertising campaign. When that came up, we wrote a letter of support to the Utah Office of Tourism Board of Directors and I wanted to give you guys what unanimously the BATC passed in support of it. I also wanted to voice our opinion, we had put in for kind of the same marketing grant in 2016 and we did receive acceptance of that grant. But we never…. It was a regional marketing plan that we had put in for matching grant funds, and we went in with the county and the city of Monticello and Blanding and we all matched, we asked for your support on that and then it was matched and we did receive the grant, but we never used that grant because of the situation at that time with the Bears Ears National Monument. We re-met as a group and said maybe it’s not appropriate right now, with what the county’s doing and the citizens of the county, with regards to the monument – no decision had been made on it. But this recent marketing grant is basically what we wanted to do but even more because the budget’s so much bigger on it. I think our tourism businesses – and I’m only talking for the Blanding area, I’m not talking for the county – is really in need of a marketing strategy and plan. And when this plan was brought up to us, it was a very detailed, very well written, strategically focused marketing plan. As good as any one I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately with the name, there are some people that that still rubs a raw emotion.

But the fact of the matter is, we have national monuments in this county. The whole idea that we wanted to do in our marketing plan, and this marketing plan also sees the same thing, if we could get people to stay an extra day or two in the county, it’s dramatic how much more money they spend. And the marketing people we are going after are not partiers, you know, the spring break group, people jumping off cliffs. We’re targeting families that are upper to middle income, retired people and upper middle income who like outdoor recreation. And I think they’re good people to have in this area to recreate. And you have to give them something in their trip itinerary to say ‘why would I stay there more than one day.’

Well? The National Monuments! You’ve got, all of them we know, and unfortunately Bears Ears is one of them. But Natural Bridges and Hovenweep, and originally when we were thinking of a monumental ad campaign, those are the monuments we were thinking of, we were not thinking of Bears Ears. But Bears Ears is a fact and I think the commissioners and the citizens in this county did a fantastic job of redirecting how that monument ended up coming out.

But I think now as a business trying to promote the area and trying to just fill the rooms, I mean we’re still at the point in our tourism of just still trying to fill the rooms, and I think we need that as a marketing plan to kind of help us focus on who are we and what do we have to offer for you. So that was my only point. And I don’t know where this will end up and I really hope this marketing plan does go ahead and go through because I think it’s really well organized and written and all the businesses I have talked to were very excited about it and were very disappointed when we weren’t able to do ours.

Phil Lyman: We’ve got two monuments. We’ve got the monument that was designated by President Obama which was a front, it was a bully, it was non-consensual, the process was completely wrong and that’s still what I think sticks in a lot of people’s minds. Even though we could say we had a huge victory in getting that monument reduced and getting some input into what should have been done in the first place. So I don’t know if there’s a way locally, maybe we need more local PR as to what it is that we’re promoting vs that we’re not still upset about it.

Haven: That’s a good point.

Phil: The BATC does a great job, and Natalie’s fantastic. Maybe we need to get more of an open house on some of these marketing campaigns, get these comments out in advance and sell people on the idea so we don’t get an emotional reaction to it.

Haven: That’s a good point, and one thing I think has been a little concerning to me is after the settlement of what the monument ended up, there have been a lot of energy and negative energy put towards tourism, and businesses in tourism, and we’re all aware of the two articles that came out about Natalie that were totally unfounded, and didn’t even have the decency to go talk to her before they wrote the articles and said “how did this happen? And there’s just been a lot of people I talk to, and looking at different posts, there’s a lot of confusion on what the TRT tax is. A lot of people think it’s coming out of the general fund.

There’s a lot of confusion on how big our tourism business is, it isn’t that big. And when you have a 14% drop in the restaurant tax, that isn’t becoming Moab tomorrow. I think that has concerned me as business owner of this constant, every time we mention tourism, well we’re gonna become Moab tomorrow. That turns a lot of people against. I know most everyone in the tourism business in this county, I never heard one person say ‘my goal is to turn into Moab’. I’ve never heard that discussed, I never heard a plan for that, I’ve never heard local businesses, and these are local businesses owned by local people, some of them the foundation of this county from the start. And they’ve been run over the coals for the last year. One person said tourism jobs are like parasites. We’re not parasites, I mean good heavens!

There’s a lot of people that work in the tourism business and cleaning rooms was never meant to be a career, it’s a way to make some extra money, and most people that do it say ‘great! I made some extra money! Good job!’ So don’t want the discussion to go that way, us against them.

Phil: That’s hitting the nail on the head. We really don’t want the discussion to go that way, and when you throw the ‘monumental’ tagline…. It’s like, could we, and we’ve said this, could we delay that, at least until some of the wounds have healed and some of the lawsuits are done because it’s still such a symbolic point of division, and if you’re not for the monument, well you must be anti-government, you must be anti-tourism, and that’s not the case either. So you come in to what could be a good discussion, and good marketing campaign, and as soon as you say “Make it Monumental”, now you’ve divided a group that ought to be coordinated and pushing in the same direction. And I don’t know how you necessarily get around it…

Haven: It’s hard!

Phil:…or that you can get around it, but the ‘monumental’ tagline, sponsored by the county… Now if a business wants to go out and say come to Bears Ears, that’s one thing, but for the county to use ‘monumental’ as their tagline, just to me, introduces some politics… it would be better if we could come up with a tagline that didn’t do that.

Haven: Well could you rename it?

Phil: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve talked about that.

Haven: That’s fine… I mean, I’m not talking for everybody. It’s the marketing plan itself is what we don’t want to lose.

Phil: We watched the videos and they were outstanding. They weren’t promoting the monument, they were just promoting the county and that’s what we want to do.

Rebecca Benally: Well after reading the email that you sent and looking at it holistically, I think since the monument came, it’s awakened the giant so-to-speak. It’s been asleep for decades and decades and because people weren’t informed, no transparency, or it wasn’t put out into the light, it has been marketed all these years, but it’s just that, recently when we restructured the Economic Development Department, because there’s transparency, the citizens now know what’s in process. What are some of the long-term goals, what are some of the long-term planning as far as economic development? One of them is tourism. We were an extractive county, so I think it’s just a matter of symantics, and yes there are emotions tied to it. But I think the problem here is that there wasn’t transparency before. [She goes on and on about how it was marketed all along, and we’ve had monuments …..she eventually talks about all the truckers that come through town and how we need more 24/7 stores….and talking about having a balance in the county]

Haven: I agree with you, and I think with this marketing plan we can change the name, which isn’t that big an issue actually, to me. But the plan itself is exactly, having all of us in the tourism business for a number of years, we have seen where do we have a weakness, or we have a weakness defining ‘why would I come rather than driving through?’ Some of the businesses have done some marketing on their own and has success with it, but when you’re a tourist doing your itinerary, it’s like, why would I go to San Juan County and spend a couple of days. The BATC hooked up with Natural Bridges. That was our first, because in the county, it was not being marketed. You wouldn’t have even know Natural Bridges was in the county with the county marketing plan. So the central part of the county, we really started focusing on Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, and the Needles District. So we had something in the central part of the county that people would say “ah, I’ll take an extra day and do that”. We have had good success with that, but we have such a small budget and I think that’s fine. I would rather actually have the county take the lead in that, than us taking the lead in that. But the county finally has come up, in the 11 years that I’ve been involved with this, this is the first marketing plan the county has come up with – before then they didn’t even make a marketing plan – but it addresses that problem.

And we, in the BATC, really tried to work on the regional market, more than the international market. Because Utah does that. I mean, they have an endless budget. They go all over the world promoting Utah. They don’t do a lot of promotion, they do some but they don’t do a whole lot in this region and we have Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Las Vegas within a days’ drive of here. So that’s what we, our little marketing plan addressed six years ago, and we’ve had a steady increase in growth. We were going negative before we started that. We were minus in our TRT growth. But the county put together, Natalie and Allison put together a great marketing plan. I mean that’s exactly who we need to target. If we need to change the name, or we need to change the symantics of it, or whatever we need to do, let’s do it! I just don’t want to see the marketing plan thrown out and not done for another couple of years. Because we really have businesses that are tetering on making it or not and we’ve had a lot of restaurants close in the last two years.

Rebecca: Yeah and I think the other problem in this situation was the media reporting without found facts and information. That’s the other problem.

Haven: That’s awful!

Bruce Adams: Are you declaring fake news? *laugh*

Rebecca: It’s always fake news with the media.

Haven: Well I won’t take up any more of your time. I just wanna make sure, you know, to consider… don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we need to change, there could be a real good discussion on that. If you wanna title it something else, I think we could have a real productive discussion on that.

Phil: I think also, I can’t speak for the other commissioners, but economic development is probably job 1 for us, but we depend on people who are in the tourism industry to figure out what should be done in the tourism industry. We’ve never wanted to micromanage the department itself, we just want to be in the loop, and as Commissioner Benally said, we feel like now we are in the loop and this one kind of snuck up on us with the tagline but the campaign we’re 100% behind. That grant application was a huge win for Natalie’s office and we’re proud of her for what she did on it. We want to see our tourism businesses thriving and flourishing.

Haven: Again, everyone I know in the tourism business doesn’t want the only economic development in this county to be tourism. They realize that’s not healthy. But I would like to see other groups with economic development put as much time and energy into it as we have, and go pursue your dreams! I mean go and organize this and promote and whatever it is, do it!

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