Moab Area Travel Council staff Robert Riberia, Marian DeLay, Michele Hill, and Callie Tranter outside of the council's building [Travis Holtby/Moab Sun News]

Moab is a tourist Mecca. In a few decades Moab has changed from a uranium-mining town to a destination with tourism at the center of its economy. That metamorphosis has been in large part guided by the Moab Area Travel Council, the organization in charge of marketing Moab.

“Our mission is to market this area, to show people that this is a destination location and a vacation spot,” said Marian DeLay, the executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council. DeLay began working for the travel council in 1982, nine years after it was founded.

The council came into existence three years after, and because, the county approved an ordinance to begin collecting the Transient Room Tax (TRT), in 1970. The TRT began as a 1.5 percent tax on all hotel rooms in town. It was increased to 3 percent in 1973 and, at the beginning of next year, it will be increased again to 4.25 percent. Two-thirds of the TRT goes to the Moab Area Travel Council. The remaining third goes to the Grand County Council to fund projects that mitigate the effects of tourism.

“The travel council was already formed and well underway when I took over,” said DeLay, who moved to Moab in 1979.

When she took the position, DeLay moved from her job as director of sales at the Ramada Inn, into the office that the travel council shared with the Film Commission and the Council for Economic Development.

But it wasn’t until the slump in uranium prices shut down Moab’s mines in the mid 1980s that the travel council, and the town as a whole, took a big step back and decided to push tourism hard.

“(Until then) we had great parks but the focus was on mining,” DeLay said.

People were coming to the parks, but they weren’t spending time in Moab. The travel council set out to change that.

One of the first organizations to start working with the travel council and the community to offer tours was Rim Cyclery, run by brothers Bill and Robin Groff. The Groffs were some of the first people to realize the potential that Slickrock Trail had for mountain biking, a trail that had originally been marked off and used by dirt bikers.

As Slickrock Trail became synonymous with world-class biking, Moab began to become a destination in and of itself.

As this was happening, the travel council created a strategic plan for promoting Moab. The plan originally focused on niche markets, such as mountain biking and Jeeping, but soon expanded to include families and tours buses.

The Moab Area Travel Council has gone through many changes over the years, but it is now comprised of four full-time employees and has a seven member advisory board, six of whom are appointed from the county council. The funds brought in from the TRT covers staff salaries, display ads, as well as IT- all of which is done in-house.

“We have completely changed the function of our office to be more proactive. We used to do what everyone else did, now we see what visitors are asking for and expand on that,” DeLay said.

This has meant a bigger push in attending regional, national and international trade shows, as well as expanding into more creative forms of advertising. Much of the focus for the travel council is online promotions through their website.

“We try to think outside the box,” said Michele Hill, the travel council’s information specialist and events promoter.

This has led to the travel council working with groups from sports teams to theaters. They recently hosted a Denver Broncos tailgate, and in some locations they run the last ad audiences see in theaters before the previews start, which offers free park passes that can be picked up at the box office.

Colorado, Utah and the Pacific Northwest are the areas of focus for the travel council’s marketing. Though they advertise in California as well, this is usually done through partners, due to the cost.

“Over the course of my tenure, I have seen the cooperation and participation of businesses with the travel council grow a lot, and be very productive, and have high yield to everyone,” DeLay said.

And she has reason to be proud of her team; Moab has only seen two years of flat or negative growth (by less than 1 percent) since DeLay started at the travel council.

“The travel council has been a huge help to us,” said Tony Lema, Sr., owner of Lema’s Kokopelli Gallery. He believes that without the events that the travel council helps to sponsor, businesses in Moab would not be as successful as they are, and that the town would not be what it is today.