New Jackson tourism agency launches

After more than a year of wrangling, a new Jackson County tourism authority was finally created this week, its board members officially named, and formal marching orders handed down.

The overhaul of tourism operations in Jackson County are intended to bring a new approach to tourism marketing and promotions, and hopefully increase tourism. Past tourism marketing efforts were stymied by turf wars and duplication of efforts by similar agencies.


The new countywide tourism board will control about $484,000, collected from a tax on overnight lodging. That money is used for marketing and initiatives to sell Jackson County as a destination and attract more tourists to the area.

The newly formed organization is a combination of the two tourism agencies that previously operated separately — one existed for the county as a whole and the other represented the greater Cashiers area.

In a throwback to the old setup, however, the newly created Tourism Development Authority ensures the two geographic area has an equal number of seats, reassuring Cashiers tourism entities that their interests won’t be overshadowed by the county as a whole.

A major point of contention in the tourism overhaul was who a county tourism director would report to: to the tourism board or the county manager? The majority of county commissioners wanted oversight of the tourism director, including hiring and firing power, to rest with the county manager. Some members of the lodging believed that oversight should rest with the tourism board.

After going around and around on the issue, commissioners decided to eliminate all mention of a tourism director position in the by-laws and instead save the debate for a future date.

County Manager Chuck Wooten said once the tourism authority members get situated, they can then decide whether they even want to hire a director and at that point come back to the county to hash out the details of the position.

Of the 15 seats on the newly formed countywide tourism board, 10 are reserved for those in the lodging industry, three for tourism-related businesses and one each representing the Jackson County and Cashiers chambers of commerce.

Some in the lodging industry believed they should account for the sum total of seats on the board, but commissioners believed other stakeholders in the tourism industry should be allowed to serve on the board.

The following list is of the newly nominated board members.

Clifford Meads, manager of the High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, was named as the chairman.

Seven members representing Cashiers/Glenville Area

• John Woods, Wyndham Resort

• Mary Lanning, Hampton Inn & Suites

• Bob Dews, Laurelwood Mountain Inn

• Clifford Meads, High Hampton Inn            

• Debby Hattler, Hattler Properties

• Brian Peterkin, Cornucopia Cheese Shop

• Ken Fernandez, Cashiers Chamber of Commerce

Seven members representing the rest of Jackson County

• Merrily Teasley, Balsam Mountain Inn

• Cherie Bowers, Smoky Mountain Getaways

• Julie Stockton, Holiday Inn Express

• Vick Patel, Best Western Inn

• Jim Hartbarger, Jarrett House

• Alex Bell, AB Fly Fishing Guide Service

• Russ Seagle, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce

One at-large representative

• Mickey Luker, Caney Fork General Store

* Four non-voting seats on the board are reserved for a Jackson County Commissioner, the Jackson County Finance Officer, executive director of Cashiers Chamber of Commerce and executive director of Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

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