The tourism authority board controls about $650,000 generated through a 3 percent tax on overnight lodging. The money is pumped back into tourism promotion. How best to spend the money is a near-constant source of contention within the tourism community.
This year, the tourism authority has a windfall of $90,000. Each year, the tourism board bases its budget on the previous year’s revenue. This year, however, overnight lodging was up 6 percent and generated $50,000 more than expected. In addition, the tourism authority spent about $40,000 less than planned. That frees up a total of $90,000.
The tourism board will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, upstairs from the TDA office and board of elections on the Old Asheville Highway to talk about what to do with the surplus.
The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce is requesting a large share of the money to pay for its visitor center operations. This year the tourism board cut funding historically awarded to the Maggie Chamber visitor center.
“I would like to see some of it go toward the visitor center,” said Sonja Michaels, a Maggie Valley chamber board member who is also on the tourism authority board. “All the overhead is being paid by the chamber. We as the chamber are subsidizing that. We don’t have the money to operate all this.”
Chambers members should not have to pay for a visitor center that serves everyone, Michaels said. The tourism authority currently gives the Maggie chamber $25,000 to fund one staff person for the visitor center. But the chamber director, Lynn Collins, also spends a lot of her time running the visitor center and should be supported as well, Michaels said.
The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce is also requesting a portion of the extra tourism money for its visitor center. They need better brochure racks and shelves, as well as a television to mount on the wall to show everything from the Weather Channel to promotional films.
“A lot of people come in and need to know what the weather is,” said CeCe Hipps, director of the Haywood Chamber. It could also show clips of ski footage in winter and festival footage in summer.
The Haywood chamber also would like to see funding restored that it historically received from the tourism authority, such as funds to attend the week-long Charlotte Home and Garden show where tens of thousands come to browse. The show is attended by many of the tourism authorities in the region who set up booths to peddle their literature.
“People come in by busloads to that spring show,” Hipps said. “You have to go to these shows to keep your name out there.”
But the tourism authority has projects of its own on which it could spend the extra money as well.
Ghost Town in the Sky, the Maggie amusement park slated to reopen next summer, has asked the tourism authority to help pay for advertising, such as billboards and brochures.
The tourism authority would also like to promote skiing and winter tourism more than it currently is, said Scotty Ellis, tourism authority director.
The Balsam Visitor Center also has funding needs, Ellis said.
“It is the busiest visitor center we have in the county,” Ellis said. “We’ve needed new brochure racks for it for some time.”
It is also so small that a square-footage expansion is also on the wish list, Ellis said.
There is also a multi-million dollar visitor center being built on the Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville that will feature regional destinations and attractions. One feature will be an “I-wall,” a multi-media wall with interactive digital images and displays for those who buy a spot on it.
“You are going to have to ‘pay to play’ there. There will also be kiosks that will be a ‘pay to play,’” Ellis said. “I’ve been told we need to hold some money for that.”
And, one final request comes from a tourism task force appointed by the county commissioners to make recommendations on how the tourism authority could be improved. The task force has asked for a study assessing the economic impact of tourism to be funded out of the tourism authority budget.