“Tourism growth during the most recent decade in Haywood County is respectably at 2.67 percent annually, but still lags behind all of the peer county destinations,” wrote Magellan strategist Chris Cavanaugh in his report.
To address that, the strategic plan calls for 14 action areas designed to increase visitation.
They include: continue branding the county as a destination, building on the core capabilities of the region, develop a viable structure for allocating revenues if the state legislature approves an additional 2 percent lodging tax, pursue tourist demographics that provide the greatest return on investment and move away from the visitor service function.
This last point, Executive Committee chairman Ken Stahl said, refers to the money needed to run Haywood County’s proliferation of visitor centers, which could perhaps be better used elsewhere.
“Once, we were operating five visitor centers, and some of our consultants said, ‘That’s where all your money’s going,’” Stahl said. The TDA now only funds three.
Board members also talked about ways to use the website more effectively. In June, the Maggie Valley website got about 10,000 more hits than the TDA website, and members wanted to figure out how better to attract web viewers and keep them at the site longer. There was some talk of putting in a more visible pop-up form to ask visitors for contact information to send travel materials, but that idea met mixed reviews.
“It would be nice to get more [leads], but I think on the flip side the bigger matrix is how many visits are we getting, how long are they staying there and how many people are taking that next step to make a purchase,” said board member Ken Howle.
The most important part of the strategic plan, though, Stahl said, was that all its outcomes must be measurable. Whether the metric is room tax collection or digital marketing analytics, there must be an objective way to measure whether the goal is being met.
“We intend to go forward with that,” Stahl said.