This image from the Moab Area Travel Council is one of several advertisements that launched April 16 in Denver. [Photo courtesy of Moab Area Travel Council]

Forget Zion National Park as the starting point for Utah’s five national parks.

Elaine Gizler, Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director, said instead the adventure deserves to begin in Moab at Arches National Park.

Arches is the “gateway” to southern Utah’s national parks, Gizler said to Grand County Council members April 17 during a presentation in council chambers Tuesday evening.

For Gizler and the Moab Area Travel Council, that means the adventure also begins with a new advertising campaign. The travel council’s campaign, running with the headline “Discover Moab,” launched Monday, April 16, in Denver.

Gizler said the idea behind the $65,000 advertising campaign is to promote the new daily, round-trip schedule of flights between Moab and Denver beginning May 1. Moab advertisements are viewable in the Denver International Airport on the train at concourse B and baggage claims. CBS Denver is airing an exclusive “Discover Moab” promotion showing television viewers a 15-second film shot in Moab. The ad is scheduled to run through April 29, Gizler said.

Moab’s Canyonlands Field Airport is currently under construction to expand and meet the needs of the new daily flight services, and airport manager Judd Hill said 49 tickets are sold for the first 50-seat jet landing from Denver May 1.

“We’re excited about this,” Gizler said.

Gizler said the latest advertising to promote the daily flights connecting Moab to Denver could bring tourists into Moab beyond the end of tourist season. Tourism typically begins to taper off in November, and without the steady stream of visitors, some of Moab’s businesses shut down for the winter, and others cut back their hours.

Gizler said the travel council hopes the advertising — which will continue through the end of this year — brings tourists to Moab, therefore encouraging local businesses to remain open and help residents to secure year-round employment.

“We want to make sure people are employed 12 months a year. This office is trying to build on developing the winter tourism so people have jobs, because traditionally it would be nine months a year and they would close,” Gizler said.

Not all stores on Main Street close in the off-season. GearHeads outdoor store owner Steve Kennedy keeps his store open year-round. He said the initiative to bring more tourists into Moab during the off-season is a great idea.

“We would welcome an increase in winter traffic,” Kennedy said.

At GearHeads, sales slow down in the off-season, and Kennedy said they have to cut hours while trying to hang onto “a core group” of employees. Winter tourism would help to pay the bills, Kennedy said.

“From a financial standpoint, we’re open, we have a product, and it would be great for us to have an increase in sales in the winter,” Kennedy said.

But farther down Main Street, shop employees at some local businesses are skeptical of what the new flight schedule will do to increase tourism in Moab during the off-season.

Amanda Domenick, owner of Tumbleweed, a Main Street shop with local art and handcrafted goods, said her store closed this past January during the off-season.

“I think it would be beneficial to the economy to have year-round tourist traffic,” she said, “but at the same time I do appreciate getting to take my little four-to-six weeks off, because that’s my official time for mental health. However, if it were to stay as busy in January as it is in April, then I would stay open.”

Domenick called the travel council’s initiative to attract tourists in the off-season “a double-edged sword.” On one side, she said, an increase in tourism would benefit the community’s economy in the off-season; but on the other hand, some locals feel concerned about losing the opportunity to have a break from tourists in the off-season.

Ora Cratsenburg, stocking merchandise during her shift at another Main Street shop, said the local economy doesn’t need a boost of tourists in the off-season: “It’s already crazy enough.”

“We’re to a point where…there’s only so much you can take,” Cratsenburg said. She emphasized that while her seasonal employment on Main Street pays the bills, she said she can hardly “walk down the sidewalk anymore” on some days.

Cratsenburg, and other workers along Main Street, said they value the winter off-season for its downtime when Moab is quieter.

“That’s not surprising to me,” Gizler said. “(but) I think the businesses that want to stay open are going to benefit by staying open, because they’ll benefit from the tourists coming into their shops and residences and I think the bottom line will tell the story.”

The promotion is now under way. Gizler said SkyWest/United Airlines – the carrier providing daily flights between Moab and Denver – is contributing $20,000 toward advertising the new flight service.

“First of all, we are trying to encourage the enplanements,” Gizler said. “If we can get the planes filled to capacity on a regular basis to help our airport with enplanement, then I’m hopeful that when the airlines see what we can do, they can take a look at that and expand into other cities.”

Airport manager Judd Hill recently said that with greater enplanements, there is a good possibility of adding direct service to cities such as Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

At a Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board meeting April 10, a report was presented by Love Communication, a marketing and advertising firm based in Salt Lake City. Working with the Moab Area Travel Council, Love Communication is already tracking over a million people by location who have been exposed to Moab advertisements placed on websites like TripAdvisor. That information can help the travel council work with the airlines to potentially add more flights to the airport within the next one to two years, Gizler said.

Director says campaign will support more year-round business and employment

“We want to make sure people are employed 12 months a year. This office is trying to build on developing the winter tourism so people have jobs, because traditionally it would be nine months a year and they would close.” – Elaine Gizler