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Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:34

Jackson tourism board considers possibility of executive director

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The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority may be ready to start thinking about hiring an executive director. Board members of the still-new tourism organization are currently forming an exploratory committee to ponder the possibilities.

 

“And figure out exactly what an executive director would do for us,” explained Robert Jumper, chairman of the tourism board. 

Jackson County’s tourism authority formed last year. The volunteer board currently has no paid staff, but instead contracts work — ranging from specific marketing jobs to handling the day-to-day logistics — to outside firms, as well as to the Jackson County and Cashiers chambers of commerce.

Jumper said board members will now assess the need for an executive director. It’s not a need they are convinced is warranted, but there is an appetite for exploration.

“We don’t want to sit there and, based on our arbitrary thoughts, say ‘we don’t need an executive director,’” Jumper said. “We want something concrete.”

The chairman said that the conversation concerning a position that would be considered “the face of the TDA” is still in its infancy. Specifics, such as a potential salary, have not been breeched. 

“We’re not even there yet,” Jumper said. “We’re not even discussing the actual hiring of one. [This is] to see if it’s even feasible.”

The chairman said that the workload currently falling to volunteer board members could justify hiring an executive director. He said the position could also absorb some of the responsibility currently held by marketing agencies or the two chambers; reassigning such responsibilities would also carry budgetary shifts — funds currently dedicated to outside contracts or the chambers could be steered toward the executive director position. 

Currently, Jackson’s tourism authority is working with a $600,000 annual budget, supported by the county’s lodging tax. This year’s budget includes a $261,600 marketing budget; a $28,800 public relations contract with Atlanta-based Pineapple Advertising; an $18,000 contract with Sylva-based Innsights Internet Marketing for social media work; a total of $72,000 to the Jackson County chamber for services; $9,360 for rent at the Jackson County visitors center in Sylva; a total of $74,400 to the Cashiers chamber for services and rent; and $1,900 to the Dillsboro visitor’s center. 

During the tourism authority’s meeting this month, Jumper told board members to expect the exploratory committee to be formed by the group’s May meeting. 

Also during its recent meeting, the tourism authority decided to take an active role in encouraging the area’s local accommodations to get involved with Smith Travel Research, or STR. The Tennessee-based firm provides market analysis and data for the hotel industry.

“It’s a very detailed report for accommodations to track their progress,” explained Chairman Jumper. 

Some board members expressed concerns about getting smaller establishments to get on board with STR. While larger hotel chains  automatically have their particulars assessed by the company, smaller lodging establishments will need to routinely provide information to STR. 

Vick Pattel, a board member with three establishments hooked up with STR, said the added effort could pose a participation hurdle.

“You’d have to manually submit,” Pattel explained. “That’s where the problem comes in for the mom-and-pop businesses.”

Board members also received an update this month on social media efforts from Mary Anne Baker, of Innsights. She informed the board that its Facebook advertising campaign was geo-targeting the North Carolina and Tennessee markets. Currently, the campaign is aiming for people with an interest in waterfalls; the target may be changed periodically to focus on people interested in “golf or tennis or destination weddings or whatever.”

The Facebook campaign is measured by the number of “likes” received. At the time of the TDA meeting, the “likes” stood at 1,440.

“A week ago we had 339, so the ad campaign is going much better than expected,” Baker said.

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