“We are looking forward to a good winter, if the weather cooperates,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood Tourism Development Authority. “We just think it’s going to be a good year.”
If the weather does bring snow and tourists with it, hotels, motels and other accommodations may see more heads in beds, meaning more tourism tax revenue for the county. Visitors to Haywood pay a 4 percent tax on overnight accommodations — bringing in $890,000 last year, which the TDA then spends on marketing, promotions and various tourism initiatives.
This fiscal year, the TDA is already slightly outpacing its lodging tax collections compared to the previous year — a trend that tourism leaders hope will continue, even if the increase is slight.
“We are gradually crawling out of the recession hole of 2008-09 to a level beyond where ‘flat is up,’” wrote Alice Aumen, chairman of the Haywood County tourism board, in the TDA’s 2012 annual report.
Since July, the TDA has collected $472,032 this year, compared to $454,477 at the same period last year.
The county tracks how much room tax is collected from different geographic areas — namely Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde — offering valuable insight into how individual parts of the county are faring.
Waynesville has seen a mostly steady increase since 2009. Collins attributed this partially to the Downtown Waynesville Association’s efforts to market the town as a prime destination for shopping and art.
“Waynesville is a very vibrant downtown,” Collins said.
On the other hand, Maggie Valley has experienced a steady decline. Maggie still accounts for more than half of the county’s total lodging tax revenue — but that is down from the days when Maggie once brought in two-thirds or more of the county’s total accommodation dollars.
A concerted effort by the TDA to compel accommodations owners to turn over the tax they collect is part of the reason for this year’s good budget tidings. A few accommodations perpetually failed to remit the tax collected from their guests, but the TDA had few alternatives beyond lawsuits and liens to force compliance.
But, in February, the board of commissioners passed a resolution allowing the county tax collector to work on behalf of the TDA to collect the late taxes. The tax collector has the authority to garnish wages or take money directly from a business’ bank account if someone refuses to pay taxes.
The result: the tourism agency received about $2,300 in late lodging tax payments during July and August this year — considerably more than the $548 it collected during the same period last year.
Looking back on 2012, TDA leaders listed its partnership with the Blue Ridge Parkway to clear many of the road’s overlooks as its “most visible success of the year. Trees that grew up over the years were blocking the views from overlooks.
But, the TDA and Maggie Valley Lodging Association were able to hire three workers for $19,500 to help trim the trees from a majority of Haywood County’s 74 overlooks along the parkway.
Looking forward to 2013, the TDA plans to redesign its website and kick off a new marketing campaign that will use the videos of the various areas and activities in the county that the authority has compiled during the past year. It will also make plans to commemorate its 30-year anniversary during fiscal year 2014.
By the numbers
A 4-cent tax on overnight accommodation in Haywood County is still showing signs of the economic downturn.
Who’s up, who’s down
Each geographic area of the county gets a portion of the occupancy tax collected from that area to spend on its own special tourism initiatives. A historical look at the portion each town gets back shows where tourism is up or down.