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A packed crowd anxiously waited to hear if the Sedona City Council was in favor of seeking outside bids to handle destination marketing and tourism promotion for the area.

In the end, however, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.

While a vote was not taken, the council unanimously agreed on Tuesday, Jan. 11, that issuing a request for proposal is not needed at this time. However, council felt that while a request for qualifications is not necessary right now, it may be considered at a later date.

The topic came up because the three-year contract with the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Authority is set to expire Friday, June 30. Vice Mayor John Martinez had brought up the idea of an RFP or RFQ in the past to see if the city is getting the greatest bang for its buck. The chamber has handled destination marketing and tourism promotion for nearly 30 years.

Since 1988, the city has contracted with the chamber to handle those services. The current budget totals slightly more than $2 million with about $1 million going toward destination marketing, $410,000 for visitor services, another $389,828 for product development and $150,000 for administration costs.

Council had a variety of options presented to it by city staff at the meeting. They include:

  • Move forward with the negotiation of a new contract with the chamber.
  • Issue an RFP for tourism promotion services.
  • Create a stand-alone destination marketing organization without ties to the chamber.
  • Create a city department to handle tourism promotion.
  • Issue a RFQ for a travel industry consultancy to assess the current structure, funding relationships, etc., and provide recommendations to the city.

In regard to a RFQ, City Manager Justin Clifton said, “We’re investing a lot of money. We want to make sure we’re getting the highest return possible. An idea is that we could bring in a third-party vendor who’s familiar with best practices, who’s seen and guided myriad destination marketing organizations across the country and simply ask for an evaluation and perform an audit. This way we can find out if we are genuinely following the best practices, do the dollars appear invested smartly, etc.”

He added that based on information from the chamber, there are already positive indicators of success but that’s not to say there aren’t blind spots. Because of that, he said an RFQ may help give council a different perspective on how dollars are being spent.

Of the 12 members of the public who spoke, all but one did so in favor of the chamber. Some asked why fix something that’s not broken, while others talked about how traffic is not the chamber’s fault but rather poor infrastructure, as well as the chamber’s longevity in, and knowledge of, the community.

Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff said she welcomed either a RFP or RFQ because they, too, issue RFPs to outside agencies for work not done by her and her staff such as publishing, web services and advertising. Councilman John Currivan listed several functions provided by the chamber and asked Wesselhoff how difficult it would be to bid out certain aspects such as destination marketing. She said just about everything they do is integrated, so they would not be interested in parsing out portions of the contract. In essence, all or nothing.

“There’s not a lot of benefit to separating it, especially when you think about parsing things out and doing an RFP for marketing, advertising, social media and public relations,” she said. “A private, for-profit agency is going to want to make a profit and we don’t [as a non-profit organization]. So, you really wouldn’t get a bang for your buck because we don’t make a profit. We don’t make a cent off the money the city invests in our organization.”

During the Wednesday, Dec. 11, Sedona City Council meeting, the acronyms RFP and RFQ were used quite often. This may have led some to wonder what the difference is between the two. Here’s the definition of each, as provided by city staff:
Request for Proposals is generally used when you have a preliminary scope of work that you’re looking to have accomplished. The RFP asks potential bidders to propose a full solution, i.e. describing how they would approach the work, why they are the best provider to do so and their proposed fees and costs.
Proposals would be ranked based on those things and the vendor providing the best value — not necessarily lowest cost — would be selected to perform the work.
Request for Qualifications is generally used to prescreen potential providers and select a vendor(s) based on their qualifications.
This is used when looking for a highly specialized professional service that requires a specific expertise. It requests the bidders provide information about their qualifications to find the best vendor and then a scope of work or contract for service is negotiated from there. Cost quotes are typically not part of an RFQ, but are negotiated later.  

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