Haywood Chamber needs visitor center

To the Editor:

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority board has voted to cut funding to the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. This will seriously hinder – if not cripple – tourism events the H.C.C.C. sponsors each year. Any staff cuts to this small but effective non-profit chamber will have a ripple effect to our local economy.

How so? Look at this outdated traffic counting method TDA is using as science to make these critical cuts. The Balsam Visitor Center is located at a rest stop area in a tiny closet-sized kiosk that barely two people can fit in. Staffing it in winter is also difficult, but TDA spends $25,000 a year on what could simply be restocked every week.

On the way to Maggie Valley visitors can stop at the beautiful new welcome center at Lake Junaluska. Even with Maggie‘s visitor center on the main drag, it is almost invisible to any driver, not very inviting and with poor parking. The Canton visitor center is closed and until it can be housed in something other than an old car was building … please! Canton has too many nice historic settings and deserves better anyway!

The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce is finally in a great location in a beautiful setting that we should all be proud of. As southern charm demands, we want our company to feel welcome and at home, especially when they come to spend money. Chamber-sponsored events like the new Blue Ridge Breakaway, which will double this year, and the annual Apple Harvest Festival bring over 40,000 tourists to Haywood County each year. These events require a great deal of planning and cannot rely on volunteers only. So as a former TDA paid employee of this visitor center, I can tell you that this ”traffic” counting method is obsolete because it does not include the thousands of phone calls, emails, letters and various requests that a dedicated staff handles every year.

Since becoming executive director of the chamber, CeCe Hipps has dedicated herself to promoting Haywood County not only as a great place to visit but a place to call home and open a new business. People rely on local chambers for many reasons, but tourism plays a major role in all functions of a chamber.

We are very fortunate to have people like CeCe and TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins working for us. The new TDA visitor guide is the best yet and the website update shows what an excellent job Lynn does marketing our area. But two visitor centers a few blocks apart is a waste of funds in my opinion.

The motels, diners and stores already have tons of the same brochures all over the county anyway. I think the TDA board should reconsider this decision and ask how many visitor centers do we really need?  Budget cuts in a recession are understandable, but using outdated techniques to cut critical chamber funds is unwise. As the busy summer and fall traffic start up again, the chamber visitor center will easily have hundreds of guests each week, of which many will – as before at the chamber’s Russ Avenue location – enjoy those rockers on the porch.

Mylan Sessions


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