First, let me state that tourism in Haywood County is up. In 2003, county tourism revenues were $95.93 million and in 2004, county tourism revenues were $98.13 million. Travel generated $22.68 million in payroll in 2004 and more than 1,400 jobs in Haywood County were directly attributable to travel and tourism. State and local tax revenues from travel to Haywood County amounted to $9.64 million. This represents a $171 tax saving to each county resident.
One of our goals at the TDA is to make sure that when people decide to travel that they choose Haywood County as a must see destination. The TDA Board has been working hard with our ad agency, The Tombras Group, and has recently put together the new Vacation Guide, which is mailed out to anyone inquiring about Haywood County. This magazine represents all activities, events, and festivals held in the County. It also lists every taxpaying accommodation, including their amenities, telephone and address.
The Tombras Group and the TDA Board have also been working on “branding” for the county. A brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination intended to develop a unique perception in the mind of consumers to distinguish Haywood County from other destinations. With ever changing trends, the TDA must stay abreast of the market so that we may seek out the appropriate travel sector.
The TDA just recently approved a Conversion Study to determine how many people who inquired about Haywood County actually came to Haywood County. The results were much better than we expected. The study showed that 50 percent of the people who requested information actually traveled to Haywood County. That is an extremely excellent conversion rate, as most counties are only at 30 to 40 percent.
Although the TDA has had a marketing plan in place since 1996, we have just recently drafted our 2006-07 Marketing Communications Plan. This is an exciting plan put together by The Tombras Group taking a look at what Haywood County has to offer and how to market these attributes. The board will be meeting the middle of this month with Tombras for a marketing workshop to finalize the plan.
Haywood is a diverse county. Waynesville is different from Maggie Valley, Maggie Valley is different from Canton, and each has its own set of unique qualities. Now that the TDA has done away with corridor funding, I see a whole new cooperation between the two chambers of commerce. It is the job of the TDA to bring tourism to the county, and it is the job of the chambers to assist them while they are here. It is also the responsibility of the chambers to let tourists know of any festivals or events scheduled so that they may enjoy themselves enough to stay an additional night.
I feel that I would be remiss not to address the recent controversy surrounding one of our board members. I want to state unequivocally that the board is certain that our director has done absolutely nothing illegal. I recently talked with Julie Davis, Haywood County finance director, and Julie tells me that our director’s paperwork is always impeccable. Dixon-Hughes PLLC performed our 2005 audit and states also that the paperwork is in order and the audit was clean. On Jan. 26, the TDA Board voted to accept the independent audit performed by Dixon-Hughes. The Haywood County finance office and the Local Government Commission have also accepted this audit. And, I want to be perfectly clear when I say that this board will not vote for another independent audit and waste the taxpayers’ money to search for a smoking gun that simply does not exist.
In closing, it is my personal goal to get this board back on track to take care of what we have all volunteered to do, and that is to promote tourism for this beautiful county.