Tourism turnaround set back by rockslide

After a slight increase in overnight visitors this fall following a dismal summer, Haywood County tourism officials are dreading November reports.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, at a town meeting in Maggie Valley last week.

Tourism businesses were dealt a double whammy in November, Collins said, with the Oct. 25 rockslide shutting down part of a major interstate near Tennessee and warmer weather preventing Cataloochee Ski Area from opening until the very end of November.

“Last year, Cataloochee opened Oct. 28,” said Collins. “A full month of skiers helped November last year.”

So far this fiscal year, Haywood has seen an overall 6 percent decline in overnight visitors.

Compared to last year, the county saw tourism revenues drop by 14 percent in July and 9 percent in August. But the TDA took in 4 percent more revenue in September and saw a 1 percent increase in October.

“The economy is easing a little bit,” said Ken Stahl, finance chairman of the TDA. “[But] it’s not where we’d like to see it.”

Stahl said the TDA has had several discussions with N.C. DOT on the rockslide cleanup process, which will take at least until March and possibly May to complete.

“We’re hoping that they’re going to be able to beat their estimates because of the economic impact,” said Stahl, adding that all sectors of the economy, not just tourism, have been impacted by the rockslide.

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